By Nathaniel Smith
The Grand County High School boys’ basketball team’s undefeated streak snapped Friday with a loss to Manti, but the Red Devils bounced back on Saturday and defeated North Sanpete. Following the weekend’s home court back-to-back, the Red Devils are 10-1 overall and 1-1 in region play.
Grand’s 2019 and region schedule kicked off Friday, Jan. 4 with a bout against the Manti Templars. The Red Devils kept the game tight through the first half, but a rough start to the second gave Manti a lead it carried to a 75-63 victory. The Templar’s relentless full court press and aggressive rim-attacking offense proved difficult to handle down the stretch as fouls and turnovers piled up for Grand.
The Red Devils came out of the first frame up by two after senior guard Kevin Park drilled a three-pointer from the cor-ner just before the buzzer. The second quarter started well as quick ball movement and a few Templar turnovers (a steal and drawn charge by Kevin Park) led to good looks for the Red Devil offense. About halfway through the quarter, Grand held an eight-point advantage. Then Manti’s offense ramped up, sinking a few tough shots and getting to the free throw line more frequently. The Templars carried a nar-row 31-30 lead into the locker room.
Manti set the tone early in the second half as it began to dominate the interior. The Templars swatted away Grand’s shots while scoring in the paint on the other end. Manti scored the first six points of the third quarter before senior Connor Guerrero ended the run with a smooth jumper from the elbow. Guerrero followed that with two more buckets down low, thanks to assists from senior Nolan Ramirez. Manti continued at-tacking the basket and drawing fouls, which soon landed a few Red Devils in foul trouble. By the time the third quarter expired, Ramirez had fouled out of the game and Manti led by 11 points after outscoring Grand 20-10 in the period.
The Templars built up their lead with a 7-0 run to start the fourth. Grand battled back, but the gap was insurmountable. Manti’s stingy defense made it difficult to get to the basket and Grand’s tries from deep just weren’t falling. The Red Devils ended up shooting only 20 percent from behind the arc on 15 attempts, and the team’s 15 turnovers certainly hurt the offense, as well. Senior center Cameron Hoppensteadt led the team with 13 points.
Manti ended up winning by 12 to hand Grand its first loss of the season.
The following day, Jan. 5, Grand recovered and picked up its first region win with a 67-60 victory over the North Sanpete Hawks. Possibly tired from the hard-fought game the night before, the Red Devils started out sluggish and fell behind in the first half. Unlike against Manti, Grand came out stronger in the second half to pull out the comeback win.
North Sanpete built a four-point lead in the first quarter thanks in part to a few offensive rebounds that gave the Hawks second chance shots and often led to fouls on Grand. Grand tied the game at 18 early in the second, but the Red Devils only scored four more points for the remainder of the quarter, all from free throws. Grand looked lackadaisical on both ends of the court as turnovers led to easy buckets for the Hawks. Going into halftime, North Sanpete led 31-22.
North Sanpete got the first five points of the third quarter, but then Grand started to turn the game around. Kevin Park nailed a three from the wing, junior Kaine Allred swiped a pass then finished with a layup on the other end, and Guerrero hit a baseline jumper in quick succession. The Hawks called a timeout and Grand responded by putting on a full court press that forced some more North Sanpete mistakes.
Hoppensteadt then pulled Grand within one point on a drive from the high post that also drew a foul. He couldn’t sink the free throw to tie, but on the next possession he finished on a nice dish from Allred to finally give Grand the lead with only 30 seconds left in the third.
Grand was now firing on all cylinders: scrappy perimeter defense led to turnovers while the big men locked down the interior and cleaned up all North Sanpete’s misses. Smart play on both ends built the one-point lead up to a multiple possession advantage. The Hawks kept the game close, but the Red Devils piled on 26 points in the final frame, passing their total from the entire first half. The team sank its free throws in crunch time to earn the seven-point win.
Hoppensteadt and Guerrero tied for scoring leader with 16 points apiece. Hoppensteadt re-corded a double-double by also grabbing 10 boards. Kevin Park added 12 points, including a pair of timely threes that helped swing the momentum to the Red Devils. Ramirez penciled in nine points, but his influence was most felt in the eight assists he dished out without committing a turnover.
Grand will continue region play with another weekend back-to-back, this time on the road. On Friday, Jan. 11, Grand has a showdown with region power-house South Sevier in Monroe. The Rams have only lost one game so far, and it was to 4A Stansbury. The next day, the Red Devils will have their work cut out for them facing Richfield, a team that beat the Templars in Manti. Grand’s next home game will not be until Wednesday, Jan. 23 when the team hosts rival San Juan. The varsity game with the Broncos is scheduled for 7 p.m.