Grand set the tone early against the Richfield Wildcats, using stifling defense to build a lead that the team never surrendered. Senior guard Nolan Ramirez got on the board first with an acrobatic leaning floater from the key. Then senior Connor Guerrero put the Wildcats on their heels when he buried a pair of quick threes that gave Grand an 8 point advantage before Richfield managed to score. The Red Devils forced several Wildcat mistakes, including a few travels and a five-second violation when Grand’s energetic defense prevented Richfield from inbounding the ball. Richfield only scraped out six points in the first while Grand put up 16.
The Red Devils kept up the defensive activity in the second quarter, expertly switching on screens and keeping the paint protected, but Richfield’s offense finally pulled the lid off the rim. Whenever the Wildcats threatened to cut into the lead, Grand had an answer. Senior Kevin Park’s deadeye shooting was essential, as he scored 11 of Grand’s 15 points in the second period. It looked like Richfield would go into halftime down by eight, but Park got the ball on the last possession, used a few flashy dribbles to create some space and then found the bottom of the net on his third triple of the quarter to give Grand a big momentum boost going into the locker room.
Perhaps due to halftime adjustments, both teams struggled offensively in the third period. Through the first three minutes of the quarter, each team only scored a single basket. By the end of the frame, Grand had posted just seven points. Since Richfield only put up 10 of its own points, Grand hung on to a 38-30 advantage going into the fourth.
Grand started the fourth by turning the ball over on its first couple of possessions. The Wildcats took advantage of the mistakes and trimmed the lead to four. After a Wildcat was fouled on a made layup, Ramirez got tagged with a technical foul for arguing the call. Richfield shot three free throws and regained possession down by two points with about three minutes left in the game. That was as close as the score ever got though, as the Wildcats never managed to tie the game. Grand strung together a few stops, including senior Teddy Park coming up with a key steal, and sank a series of free throws to extend the lead to eight. Richfield whittled the lead back down to three with less than 30 seconds to play but couldn’t hit a tying shot. Grand’s 40 percent field goal shooting and 75 percent rate from the free throw line was just enough to pull off the 55-52 victory thanks to the squad’s excellent defense throughout.
Kevin Park efficiently led Grand’s offense, totaling 20 points on 64 percent shooting while also going four-of-seven from deep. Senior center Cameron Hoppensteadt put up 19 points, making the most of his trips to the charity stripe by nailing nine of his 10 free throw attempts. He also grabbed 17 boards with seven coming on the offensive end. Despite the impressive double-double, Hoppensteadt’s role in locking down the paint and anchoring the defense was arguably his biggest contribution.
Following the invigorating win on Friday, the Red Devils again took to their home court for a faceoff with another of the region’s top teams on Saturday afternoon. The South Sevier Rams proved to be a tougher matchup for Grand as the squad never quite found its offensive rhythm. The Red Devils started the game shooting well, with their first nine points coming from behind the arc as senior Tyson Horton drilled a pair and Ramirez sank one. The Rams countered with some hard-nosed basketball, getting to the line early and often. By the end of the first, South Sevier led 13-12 and it was clear the game would come down to the wire.
South Sevier did not relent on its unyielding defense in the second quarter. Grand did not score until halfway through the quarter when Horton buried another triple, which only came after an 8-0 Rams run that put a bit of distance between the teams. Both Kevin Park and Hoppensteadt found themselves on the bench due to foul trouble, but Grand battled to keep the game close. Junior Kaine Allred brought Grand within four when he picked off a pass and took it all the way to the hoop for a buzzer beating layup.
After the break, Grand’s offense completely ground to a halt. The half started well with the first points coming on a step back three from Teddy Park, but Grand only scored one more basket for the rest of the quarter. The Rams’ aggressive half court press was difficult to overcome as Grand’s turnovers outnumbered its points in the third period. South Sevier put up another 13 points to take a 39-27 lead before the final frame.
The teams traded baskets to start the fourth and Grand still trailed by 12 with four minutes and change remaining in the game. At that point, Grand implemented a full court press that disrupted the Rams and caused several turnovers. Teddy Park sank an open corner three after catching a pass from Ramirez. On Grand’s next possession, when South Sevier rushed to contest another three from Teddy Park, the defender ran into him and sent him to the line. Park sank all three free throws to cut the lead to eight. His brother Kevin Park fouled out of the game a few plays later, but the Red Devils kept fighting. Horton and Ramirez each drilled three-pointers on consecutive possessions that were separated by South Sevier dribbling out of bounds because of Grand’s press. Ramirez then got out in transition and scored a layup that brought the score to 47-44 with two and a half minutes remaining. About a minute later, South Sevier hadn’t scored again. Allred intercepted a pass and finished the resulting fast break with a layup that narrowed the margin to one. Unfortunately, Grand couldn’t get over the hump and did not score for the rest of the game. The Rams sank some free throws down the stretch to close the game with a 55-46 score that belied how close the finish actually was.
Grand ended the game with a dismal shooting percentage of 27 percent. South Sevier’s tough interior defense prevented the Red Devils from getting many easy looks inside and forced the team to settle for jump shots. Horton finished as the game’s top scorer with 16 points that came largely off his four makes from deep. No other Red Devils reached double digits, though Teddy Park came close with his nine points. Ramirez added eight points and contributed five assists and three steals.
After playing its final home game against the Emery Spartans on Wednesday, Feb. 6, Grand’s boys basketball team only has San Juan left on the regular season schedule. Grand will travel to Blanding on Saturday, Feb. 9 to take on the Broncos. The matchup times were slightly adjusted, so varsity will begin at 6 p.m. Grand pulled off a thrilling win in a nail-biter at home against San Juan on Jan. 23, so the rivalry rematch promises to end the regular season with a bang. Wins over Emery and San Juan could vault Grand higher in the region standings, but even in sixth place the Red Devils will get to compete in the postseason. The inter-region games that make up the first round of the playoffs will be played at Orem High School on Feb. 16.