Buffs end state trophy drought

Nathan Oster

Win two of three, claim fifth place

From losing their opener and nearly their top player to injury, to surviving a loser-out battle that took two overtimes to decide, before ultimately capturing the consolation title with a shooting performance for the ages, it was a weekend in Casper that the Greybull Buffs and their fans won’t soon forget.
The trophy was the school’s first in eight years, dating back to the 2016 team that captured third in Coach Jim Prather’s final year on the bench. That team was led by a trio of senior standouts in Treston Tracy, Jordan Jackson and Zack Zeller.
This year’s squad proved its resilience in Casper, battling back from a 56-46 loss to Lusk on Thursday to defeat Kemmerer 68-60 in double overtime Friday and Big Piney 65-47 in the consolation championship game Saturday.
The outcomes helped the Buffs reach the .500 mark at 14-14, a feat in itself considering they were 1-8 at in early January. In the season’s final two months, they went 13-6, building a resume that included a conference title along with a second-place finish at regionals.
“To come away from state with a trophy, I think we got those kids to almost max out their potential — and to where they should be,” said Coach Logan Burningham. “This senior class really needed to go out on top.”
The weekend didn’t begin well, as the Buffs, No. 2 seed from the West, were beaten by Lusk, the No. 3 from the East.  The Tigers were the surprise of the tournament, going on to defeat Wright in the semifinals before losing to Wyoming Indian in the title game.
“Even though it was a match up two and three seeds, they beat us by 19 the first time we played, so in my mind, they should have been the favorite,” said Burningham. “We knew it would be a tough game, but I really thought we matched up well with them.”
The Buffs started fast, scoring the first seven points, but Lusk responded in a big way, going on a 13-2 run to close out the quarter. The Tigers’ lead grew from four points to as many as nine, at 25-26. That was the score at the 2:02 mark when Carlos Rodriguez, Greybull’s leading scorer and rebounder, twisted an ankle on a drive to the hoop.  He sat out the rest of the quarter.  To their credit, his teammates trimmed the gap to five in his absence.  The Buffs pulled to within two, 41-39, after three, but Lusk outscored them 15-7 over the final eight minutes.  
“Three things cost us — one, we had too many turnovers that led to easy transition baskets for them; two, their offensive rebounds absolutely killed us, resulting in way too many second-chance opportunities, and three, it’s hard to overcome when your top player goes down and is only able to play at 60 percent against a team with as many playmakers and as athletic as Lusk,” said Burningham.
Lusk finished with a 42-26 edge in rebounding, with 16 of their 42 coming on the offensive end.
A hobbled Rodriguez still paced the Buffs with 18, followed by Coby Henderson with 14.
Game two featured a matchup with Kemmerer, a team the Buffs defeated at regionals but scared Burningham. “For some reason, we don’t match up well with them,” he said.  One reason was their big,  Chase Bowen, who scored 25 to go along with 17 boards.
The Buffs got off to another fast start, leading by as many as nine (17-8) in the first quarter, but the Rangers dominated the second, outscoring Greybull 15-4. At the half, the Rangers led by four.  But it was a dogfight from there — they were tied at 37 after three, at 49 at the end of regulation (due to a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Kemmerer) and at 56 after the first overtime before the Buffs outscored the Rangers 12-4 in the second overtime to win it.
Henderson and Rodriguez accounted for 60 of their team’s 68 points, with Henderson tallying a career-high 35 and Rodriguez chipping in 25 to go along with nine rebounds.  Henderson’s line included five 3-pointers.
“Coby put us on his back,” said Burningham. “I even told him at one point, ‘Here’s your moment,’ and ‘Carlos needs you to be the guy to step up and make plays.’  He did it and got us to the next round.”
The Greybull-Big Piney game was closer than the final suggests, as the Buffs used a 20-6 run over the final eight minutes to turn what had been a four-point game, at 45-41, into an 18-point rout.  It was a game that showed how far the team had come, as in addition to Henderson’s 27 and Rodriguez’s 12 points and 12 boards, the team got contributions from role players Jesus Rodriguez, with a career high 12, a couple of clutch 3-pointers from Isaac Vigil and a 6-of-6 effort from the line by Caden Hunt.
It was Greybull’s best shooting performance of the season. The Buffs hit 13 3-pointers — Henderson had six, Jesus Rodriguez three, Vigil and Carlos Rodriguez two apiece — and only four shots from inside the arc.  From the line, they were a season-best 18-of-20, good for 90%.
Six seniors in Rodriguez, Henderson, Rodriguez, Acuna, Christian Nelson and Brandon Burns will be lost to graduation. The Buffs will pin their hopes for next year on junior Isaac Vigil and sophomores Caden Hunt and Yandel Hernandez, all of whom contributed to the team’s strong play down the stretch.
“When you look at where we were as a team early on, I’d have taken a fifth place trophy and called the year a big success,” said Burningham. “We’ve made a lot of progress these past four years, starting with Carlos and Coby with the others coming along and contributing these last couple years.  
“They helped turn the program around.  To have to rebuild from losing these guys will be difficult in the next few years.  We need to get to a lot of camps, do a lot of skill work and spend a lot of time in the gym this summer.”

Lusk        13 15 13 15 — 56
Greybull          9 14 16   7 — 46
GREYBULL — Caden Hunt 0-6 0-0 0, Jesus Rodriguez 1-2 0-2 2, Juan Acuna 2-2 0-0 4, Coby Henderson 4-17 3-5 14, Isaac Vigil 2-5 2-4 6, Yandel Hernandez 1-1 0-0 2, Carlos Rodriguez 7-15 3-4 18.  Totals 17-of-48 8-of-15 46.
3-POINT GOALS — Henderson 3, Rodriguez.  REBOUNDS — Greybull 26 (Rodriguez 9); Lusk 42.  STEALS — Greybull 11 (Rodriguez 6); Lusk 13.  ASSISTS — Greybull 7 (Acuna 3); Lusk 9.  TURNOVERS — Greybull 16.
Kemmerer        8 15 14 12 7   4 — 60
Greybull        15 4 18 12 7 12 — 68
GREYBULL — Hunt 0-5 0-0 0, J. Rodriguez 0-1 0-0 0, Acuna 2-7 2-2 6, Henderson 13-33 4-6 35, Vigil 1-3 0-0 3, Hernandez 0-1 0-0 0, Rodriguez 10-18 3-5 25.  Totals 26-of-68 9-of-13 68.
3-POINT GOALS — Henderson 5, Rodriguez 2.  REBOUNDS — Greybull 33 (Rodriguez 9); Kemmerer 45.  STEALS — Greybull 17 (Rodriguez 7); Kemmerer 6.  ASSISTS — Greybull 8 (Rodriguez, Acuna 3); Kemmerer 11.  TURNOVERS — Greybull 10; Kemmerer 24.
Greybull            17 10 18 20 — 65
Big Piney            12 16 13   6 — 47
GREYBULL — Hunt 1-7 6-6 8, J. Rodriguez 3-6 3-4 12, Acuna 0-1 0-0 0, Henderson 6-15 9-10 27, Vigil 2-5 0-0 6, Rodriguez 5-12 0-0 12.  Totals 17-of-46 18-of-20 65.
3-POINT GOALS — Henderson 6, J. Rodriguez 3, Vigil 2, Rodriguez 2.  REBOUNDS — Greybull 29 (Rodriguez 12); Big Piney 35.  STEALS — Greybull 10 (Rodriguez, Henderson 4).  ASSISTS — Greybull 8 (Acuna, Henderson 2).  TURNOVERS — Greybull 10; Big Piney 19.