Boys basketball season ends on sour note at state tournament

Cameron Hoppensteadt glides to the hoop for a scoop shot against the Bulldogs.
Photo by Ron Dolphin

The Grand County High School boys basketball season ended with a pair of losses at the state tournament in Richfield. The Red Devils lost to Emery in the quarterfinals on Feb. 21 then fell to Judge Memorial in the consolation bracket the next day. Though it wasn’t the best possible sendoff for Grand’s six seniors, it was a successful season on many levels.

The Red Devils got off to a great start, going a perfect 9-0 in non-region games. The win streak featured a thrilling win in Monticello when senior Nolan Ramirez scored at the buzzer to beat the Buckaroos and a decisive victory over Providence Hall that was played on the home court of the Utah Jazz. The schedule got far more difficult when Grand moved into Region 15 play, which was the 3A classification’s most competitive region this year. Grand went 6-6 in its region matchups.

Highlights included sweeping rival San Juan, a nail-biter win over the Richfield squad that went on to take second in the state tournament and the team’s 94-point outing in a win over Emery for the final home game of the season.

Quarterfinals vs. Emery

In Grand’s quarterfinal bout against the Spartans, the team struggled to find its range from deep and didn’t make the most of trips to the free throw line. Grand’s shooting woes were exacerbated by Emery’s unyielding defense. Senior center Cameron Hoppensteadt tried his best to carry the team with an impressive performance on both ends of the floor, but no one else was able to provide much offense.

Officials called a tight game, and players on both sides found themselves in foul trouble. The Red Devils shot a higher percentage from the stripe than the Spartans, 60 percent compared to 55, but Emery got to the line 13 more times. Emery made its tries from the field at a much higher rate, 52 percent against Grand’s 41.

Emery put the first points on the board with a three-pointer. Senior Teddy Park responded with a corner trey, but it was negated when his brother Kevin got tagged with a foul for setting an illegal screen. Grand finally got its first points when Hoppensteadt pulled down an offensive rebound and knocked it in for two. A few plays later, Teddy Park snapped the net on another good look from deep, and it actually went on the scoreboard.

Emery had built a 10-5 lead when Grand’s offense woke up. First, Hoppensteadt found a cutting Ramirez with a no look pass for an easy layup. The next time down the floor, Hoppensteadt drove hard to the basket, drew contact and still made the shot. He sank the free throw to tie the game at 10 about halfway through the opening quarter. After an Emery miss, Ramirez pushed the ball up the court before kicking it out to Hoppensteadt, who was trailing a few steps behind. The Spartan defense didn’t close out quick enough and Hoppensteadt buried a three from the top of the key to give Grand its first lead.

Emery ended its dry spell and snapped Grand’s 8-0 run with a couple of free throws. Then with less than 20 seconds left, the Spartans drained a three from the wing and took a 15-14 lead at the end of the first.

Hoppensteadt got the first points of the second quarter when he powered through the Emery defense and finished off the backboard with his right hand. That was the last time Grand was ahead on the scoreboard. Emery soon regained the lead and extended it with a timely three. The Red Devils kept it close for a few minutes, with a steal and layup by Ramirez bringing them back within two. With about four minutes left in the half, Grand trailed 22-20. The Red Devils only scored one more basket for the rest of the quarter. Grand’s offensive struggles put the squad in a hole it was never able to climb out of, falling behind 37-22 headed into the break.

Hoppensteadt emphatically swatted a Spartan shot to start the third and then got another block on Emery’s second possession. With the post effectively locked down, Emery began settling for more jumpers, but unfortunately for Grand, the Spartans continued their hot shooting from the second quarter. Grand’s offense couldn’t keep pace. Grand started the second half with a two-minute scoring drought that was snapped by a pair of free throws from Hoppensteadt. But by that point the lead had ballooned to over 20 points.

Emery’s point guard earned a technical for arguing a call and fouled out of the game shortly thereafter. It seemed the momentum shifted to Grand’s side, though that quickly slipped away. Grand busted out its full court press, but it did little to slow Emery’s roll. Grand stayed active on defensive, constantly digging at the ball. The aggressive defense disrupted the Spartans slightly, but it also led to Grand’s players picking up a lot of fouls. Hoppensteadt swished a three from the corner to beat the buzzer, but after the hard-fought third quarter, Emery had managed to add a point to its lead.

The fourth was Grand’s best quarter offensively, but it also featured Emery’s highest output, so the margin only grew. Whenever Grand built a little momentum, the Spartans had an answer. Grand’s starting backcourt, Ramirez and the Park brothers, all fouled out of the game during the final frame. Down three starters, Hoppensteadt carried most of the offensive load for Grand in the fourth. Despite his best effort, Emery was ahead 77-56 when the final buzzer sounded.

Hoppensteadt was the lone bright spot for Grand on the stat sheet, racking up 29 points and 14 rebounds. He was the game’s highest scorer, edging Emery’s Kyson Stilson who had 28. Ramirez added nine points and three assists for the Red Devils.

Consolation Semifinals vs. Judge Memorial

The loss to Emery knocked the Red Devils down into the consolation bracket where they faced the Judge Memorial Bulldogs, who lost to Richfield in the quarterfinals. Teddy Park was dialed in from deep, but otherwise Grand’s shooting struggles from the day before persisted.

The narrative of the game against the Bulldogs was disappointingly similar to Grand’s matchup with the Spartans. A close first quarter that ended with a tie gave way to a dismal second quarter for the Red Devils that resulted in a gap they never managed to close. Grand tried using a full court press early in the game, but it didn’t force many turnovers or prevent the Bulldogs from attacking the basket. Judge Memorial kept hitting threes and scoring and-ones in a run that put the team up 43-34 at halftime.

That advantage proved insurmountable in the second half. Three-point shooting continued to be the major difference between the two squads as Judge Memorial kept sinking long balls while Grand tried to find the bottom of the net from downtown. For the rest of the game, Grand failed to string together stops or cut into the lead.

By the start of the final frame, Grand trailed by 11. With about five minutes left in the game, the Red Devils managed to shrink the deficit to eight, but the score never got any closer than that. The end of the game turned into a free throw shooting competition as both teams racked up fouls. At the final buzzer, Judge Memorial led 88-73 and Grand’s season was officially over.

Hoppensteadt put up another impressive stat line, nearly identical to his numbers from the quarterfinal game. He again posted 29 points and 14 rebounds, but also dished out four assists against the Bulldogs. Teddy Park also reached double digits with 18 points, including four triples. Ramirez contributed eight points, four rebounds, five assists and a couple of steals. Kevin Park scored nine points with a couple makes from deep and handed out five assists as well.