Warriors bounce back to win consolation championship
March 17, 2022
WORLAND - It was not the hardware they were after, but the Worland Warriors showed their resolve and scrapped their way to two wins to finish fifth and bring home the consolation championship from the 3A State tournament in Casper on March 10-12.
A pair of upsets in the regional tournaments set up a showdown between the Warriors and Douglas Bearcats in the quarterfinals of the 3A State tournament. Douglas and Worland were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, all season and had the best records in 3A. Heading into state, Douglas was 22-3 and Worland 24-2.
"We knew we were going to have to play really well to beat them," said WHS boys basketball coach Aaron Abel. "We felt like we had a good game plan going in, and our practices had gone really well too. We split up into teams and worked on dealing with Douglas' zone and press. Not many teams want to press us, but we thought Douglas would be one."
Abel continued, "Monday's practice, we split into even teams and worked on our press, our press offense and our zone offense. Tuesday and Wednesday's practice, we did a ton of shooting. Then split into our varsity and second unit and worked a ton on our baseline OBs (offensive boards), special teams and offensive sets. We felt good where we were at."
After a slow start in the first quarter, the Warriors used a 21-15 second quarter to take a 31-29 lead at halftime.
The two teams were trading baskets for much of the third quarter, but later in the quarter, Bearcat Levi Curtis knocked down a pair of 3s that gave Douglas a 39-38 lead. From that moment on, Douglas would hold the lead, and Worland's shooting would abandon them.
"We knew they were the deeper team and better shooting team. I thought our defensive game plan was executed very well. We really limited their point guard Nate Halquist. We limited their shooter Trey Rinn; he hit six 3s the first time we played them. Defensively, we were pretty solid and played well enough to win.
"Offensively, the thing we wish we could change sooner is how aggressive we attacked the basket. Douglas sagged off of us a little bit, and we got decent looks but took a lot more swing 3s than we should have, especially when the first ones were falling," said Abel. "I wanted our guys to shoot with confidence and not second guess themselves, but at the same time, I think we needed more of an attacking mentality, even when they were sagging off of us. We didn't get enough of an inside-out play and didn't get to the foul line enough. One of our goals was to shoot more free throws than them, and we didn't get that done."
Abel continued, "We needed to go a little bit harder on the offensive glass and rebound some of those misses. I don't want to just say that we got good shots; we just didn't make them. That's an easy excuse. I will say that we got decent shots, and they didn't go in, but at the same time, we have to be prepared to win a game against a really good opponent when our shots aren't going in. We needed to get to the foul line more and be more aggressive offensively. We didn't get that figured out in time."
Douglas went on to win 58-47 and end Worland's bid to defend their state title.
The Warriors second-half shooting proved to be the difference. The Warriors defense held and prevented Douglas from landing a knockout blow, but they could not capitalize on those stops with buckets as they went 4 for 20 from the field in the second half.
"I think nerves were a part of that too. I thought we'd be the more confident team going in, and we weren't. We struggled with that at regionals and state. That experience should make us better, but guys played different roles when they were sophomores, and now they're juniors, and we were counting on them to score a little more. That was difficult for them to do in that pressure-packed situation," said Abel. "Our defense gave us every opportunity to win that game, but we weren't able to get it done."
Court Gonsalez led all scorers with 17 points on 5 for 10 shooting and was Worland's leading assist man with four. Brock Douzenis added 12 points and had a team-high eight rebounds. Carter Clark scored nine points, Jorey Anderson three, Kolter Wyman two and Landen Gilmore one.
The loss to Douglas sent the Warriors to the consolation round, where they played the Hot Springw County Bobcats in a loser-out game.
After a first-half lull that saw them trailing by 13, the Warriors regained their composure and went on to defeat the Bobcats 59-52, advancing to the consolation championship game.
"We didn't talk about Thermop until right before game time, and it showed. We knew Thermopolis was at a different stage in their program than we are, and they were excited to be there at state, and our guys were still sulking about the day before. We didn't play well, but our guys did get it figured out in the end," said Abel.
Clark led the Warriors in scoring with 16 points, Gonsalez was second in scoring with 14 points, Anderson added 13, Douzenis seven, Kade Weber five, Owen Page two and Landen Gilmore two.
After going 6 for 23 in the first half, the Warriors found their touch in the second half, shooting 11 for 24 and going 3 for 9 from 3.
In the consolation championship, the Warriors matched up against the Lyman Eagles for the third time this season.
The Warriors outscored the Eagles 39-25 in the second and third quarters combined. That scoring stretch was made all the more valuable as Worland needed each point once Lyman mounted a fourth-quarter comeback.
Lyman went on a 9-0 run in the final two minutes, but the Warriors held on for the 53-52 victory.
"In both Thermopolis and Lyman games, it was an issue of are we going to be motivated to go out a play the way we need to play. I think our guys were hoping that the other teams would just roll over because we were the more talented team," said Abel. "But it's March, and you have to play well to win games in March."
"The guys did figure it out and flipped the switch, it was all just due to our effort. In the second half of that Thermop game, the middle quarters of the Lyman game, you saw our effort and intensity went up. All of a sudden, we were getting to the rim and the foul line and were creating turnovers. We were playing Worland basketball."
Clark was the Warriors' leading scorer against Lyman with 14 points. Douzenis add 12 points, Gonsalez nine, Kade Weber seven, Anderson five, Gilmore four and Wyman two.
Lyman's run at the end of the fifth-place game was largely due to the Warriors free-throw struggles over the final two minutes. They were unable to convert on the one-and-one and, as a team, shot 8 for 21 for the game from the charity stripe.
"In the Lyman game, we took a double-digit lead at the end of the third, and our guys relaxed a bit. All season long, and it even goes into last year, the free-throw line has been a huge problem for us. We've had a team that shoots just slightly better than 50 percent. We tried a lot of different ways to get better at that, and I need to continue to get creative and figure out ways we could do that. That foul line is hurting us in big games and postseason. It almost cost us a state championship last year, and it very nearly cost us a consolation championship this year," said Abel. "There's a lot of things to start thinking about, and it's not long after that last game of the season that you start thinking ahead to next year and what we have returning. Especially after the year we had, you want to turn the page and continue to grow and get better."
Look to next week's edition of the Northern Wyoming News for the Worland Warriors season wrap-up.