Although the Grand County High School boys basketball team lost both of its state tournament games last week, the Red Devils coaches and players still called their breakout season a success.
“I think we were intimidated by our surroundings,” said GCHS head coach Scott Horton of the team’s first boys basketball state tournament appearance — quarterfinals or beyond — in some 20 years, well before any of this year’s Red Devil players were born.
In the 2A state tournament’s opening game Thursday morning, Feb. 23 at Richfield, the Red Devils fell to Summit Academy by a score of 65-40. Grand got off to a slow start, scoring just five points in the opening quarter as the Bears took an early 15-5 lead. Summit Academy led 29-15 at the half, but Grand stayed even with the Bears in the third period, which ended with a thrilling 30-foot shot at the buzzer by GCHS junior Brayden Schultz, who had taken a full-court pass with one second left to make the shot, his first and only 3-pointer of the season.
“It was pure luck,” said Schultz of the shot, which he said prompted a flurry of congratulatory texts to his phone.
In the fourth quarter, however, the Bears outscored Grand 16-6 to pull away for the 25-point win.
“I don’t feel we have anything to hang our heads about,” said Schultz, who led the Red Devils with 18 points. “I mean, we went further than any team has in the last 20 years, and considering that we hadn’t won a region game in the previous two years makes it even better. I’m mostly glad that we could bring the community back to loving and supporting Grand basketball again.”
The loss to Summit Academy put the Red Devils in the one loss bracket, where they next faced the South Sevier Rams on Friday afternoon. Once again, the Red Devils started cold, with the Rams jumping out to an 18-7 lead in the first quarter and posting a 32-16 halftime lead. Grand actually outscored South Sevier during the second half, ultimately losing the game by 14 points, 69-55.
Four different players — Schultz, Alec Williams, Josh Jones, and Kenyon Birdwell — each scored 11 points for the Red Devils in the loss. South Sevier also had four scorers in double figures, led by Porter Dowell with 18.
With its second defeat in as many days, the Red Devils headed back home to Moab on Friday night.
“Just because we lost the games doesn’t mean the season was for nothing,” Horton said. “Those boys played hard all season, we accomplished our goal of making a play-in game and winning it. I’m proud of all of them and I’m excited for the future of the team.”
Horton added that he was pleased that the team’s three seniors — Taylor Horton, Christian Wilson, and Birdwell — were able to experience what state basketball was all about, in addition to all of the team’s younger players, who got to get in and play in a state game.
Grand, which finished the season with an overall record of 16-8, ended its Region 15 schedule with a 7-3 record, tying the Red Devils for second place with San Juan. The Red Devils had defeated Rowland Hall 63-44 in a play-in game at Orem on Feb. 18 to earn their trip to the state tournament. Layton Christian ended up winning the state 2A title, beating Region 14 rival Waterford 59-41 in Saturday’s championship game.