Wheatland boys make first state championship appearance since 2011

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By Stephanie Wilson swilson@pcrecordtimes.com
Posted 3/13/24

CASPER - Wyoming state tournament action opened last Thursday and the Wheatland Bulldogs faced-off with the Lovell Bulldogs in the first round. On paper, the Bulldog teams were evenly matched both in …

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Wheatland boys make first state championship appearance since 2011

Claim Second Place


CASPER - Wyoming state tournament action opened last Thursday and the Wheatland Bulldogs faced-off with the Lovell Bulldogs in the first round. On paper, the Bulldog teams were evenly matched both in regular season standings and rebounding.

The first quarter of play found the Bulldogs battling for points as they continued to trade baskets. As the score climbed to 10-7 in favor of Lovell, senior Bryce Stenson was the only Wheatland player at that point to get on the scoreboard.

Senior Lee Raser and freshman Jacob Miller got into the action and brought Wheatland within one; however, the score remained low on both sides at halftime, 16-14 Lovell.

In the second half, play started to get more physical and more aggressive; with junior Jacob Hyche holding his own in the paint despite Lovell's height advantage.

With four minutes left in the game, Wheatland was trailing by four. Despite some good offensive rebounding WHS was having a hard time getting the ball to fall. Senior Brock Peasley powered through some defense and got a nice layup, followed by a three-point shot from Stenson, making it a three-point game with 1:47 remaining on the clock. To gain a possession, the Wheatland Bulldogs were forced to foul in the last 60 seconds; Peasley took advantage of an opportunity, giving the ball to Stenson who dished to Nichols who hit a massive three-pointer to tie the game. With only 11 seconds remaining, neither team had time to score, and the game was in overtime.

Lovell was the first to score in overtime action. Wheatland was rebounding well overall, outrebounding their Bulldog foes 23-21. Senior Lee Raser got the game tied again after sinking two free throws: 39-39. Hyche swatted the ball out of a Lovell shooter's hands, and Stenson grabbed the rogue ball and went coast-to-coast on a layup.

It was a battle of the Bulldogs as Lovell scored after scrambling for a loose ball, and with only 10 seconds remaining on the overtime clock, Wheatland had possession. Stenson put up a three-point shot which bounced out into the hands of freshman Tate Nichols who put the ball back up within the blink of an eye; winning the game as the gym exploded in celebration. A mighty shot for the freshman who put the game into overtime and the last shot left his hands so quick, there wasn't time to blink. Wheatland was on top 41-39; advancing them to the semifinal game.

Nichols was good for 14 points, Stenson added 12, Lee Raser put in five, Peasley added four, and Jacob Miller connected on two. The Wheatland Bulldogs had six shots from three-point range as a team and pulled down 26 rebounds with only eight turnovers.

"We never gave up," head coach Mick Cochran said in a post-game interview. "We are super-resilient. We played a good team that is well-coached, and we feel good about winning."

The Bulldogs were set to face number-one ranked and undefeated conference rival Douglas on the second day of the tournament, who had beat Pinedale 80-55 the night before.

By halftime, the Bulldogs were trailing by three, with only three athletes scoring: Nichols, Hyche and Cole Goertz. An unusually low semifinal score stood at 15-12 in favor of Douglas, however, the Bulldogs outrebounded the 'Cats 12-9.

Douglas came out scoring in the third quarter, and suddenly had a six-point lead. Nolan Schaffner came off the bench to score a nice bucket, but Douglas answered right back with a bucket of their own. Wheatland had possession at the close of all three quarters, but there seemed to be a seal on the basket, and Douglas led in the low-scoring game 25-18. Wheatland was effectively keeping the Douglas scoring in-hand, which had the crowd and the 'Cats team frustrated.

Senior Bryce Stenson scored for the first time of the game at the top of the fourth quarter, putting the Bulldogs within four points. The Douglas fans found this annoying, and a member of the Douglas crowd was ejected from the game by security personnel, while another fan was warned.

Directly after the incident, Lee Raser scored and now the Bulldogs were within two points with three minutes remaining. Coach Cochran was really applying the pressure, while also being patient and deliberate and the 'Cats were feeling it.

Finally, Douglas scored, which put them ahead by two with slightly more than a minute ticking. After a free-throw, the undefeated 'Cats were leading by three; not a situation they were used to, as Douglas averaged 69 points per game in regular season play. With 10 seconds remaining, Stenson scored, tying the game and putting the team into overtime for the second night in a row; 28-28.

The Bearcats were the first to score in overtime, but Tate Nichols was not impressed and tied the game once again. Scoring went back and forth and with 30 seconds to tick off. Stenson was fouled on a layup, which gave the Bulldogs a small lead, 33-32. Frustration was clearly mounting, as Nichols also got fouled, hitting both charity shots, advancing the score even further. As Douglas missed a three-point shot, Stenson grabbed the rebound, and got fouled, putting him back on the stripe, and hit it. With a mere eight seconds left, the ‘Dawgs led by four points. Douglas ran out of time, and Wheatland earned their right to the championship game.

Nichols led the Bulldogs in scoring with 13, Stenson added 12, Jacob Miller put in two, Hyche added two, Peasley, Schaffner, and Lee Raser all contributed two points each.

The big night was upon them, and the Bulldogs took the floor very excited after two giant wins. This was to be the Wheatland Bulldogs’ first state championship appearance since 2011. The championship was last won by the Bulldogs boys in

1930.The western-based Powell Panthers came into the game undefeated on the regular season, and in the tournament.

The Panthers got on the scoreboard first but were quickly answered by Peasley bucket.

Powell is not deterred and the teams traded baskets for most of the first quarter, ending 11-9 with the Panthers slightly ahead.

It seemed the officials were going to let the boys play, and were not calling much, making the clock tick off quickly in the first half. Freshman Jacob Miller got a good shot off, tying the game 15-15. It seemed another low-scoring game was ahead, and Wheatland started having trouble maintaining possession. By halftime, Powell had a seven-point advantage, 26-19.

Third quarter action found the Panthers gaining a 10-point lead. Even though Nichols connected an important shot from the arc, Powell remained undeterred. While the Bulldogs continued to attempt the scoreboard, the ball just wouldn’t drop. By the time the board advertised the 4th quarter, the Panthers were up 40-29 after a scoring run.

Unfortunately, the gap could just not be closed, and the Bulldogs ultimately fell to the Panthers, 49-34.

Scoring for the Bulldogs were Peasley with 10, Nichols with 10, Stenson with seven points, Lee Raser with five and Jacob Miller with two.

Although the championship slipped out of their hands, the Wheatland Bulldogs had a tremendous showing at the tournament and both surprised and surpassed many peoples' expectations, by playing well and maintaining dignity and resolve in high-pressure situations.