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The Sports Guy: What a finish

Nobody came home with a championship, but what a final week or so of the season the local basketball teams produced. Both Northwest College and Powell High School produced postseason excitement aplenty.

Obviously, that tale begins with the last-second heartbreak suffered at the hands of Star Valley in the 3A boys’ championship game. That shot only carried the significance that it did though because of a gritty comeback effort as the Panthers clawed their way out of an eight-point hole in the final minutes.

Heck, their appearance in the championship game came only after the Panthers responded to a spirited challenge from cross-county rival Cody the night before.

All you can ever ask for as a coach is to have your team position itself to win, and the Panther boys were definitely able to work themselves in a situation where they gave themselves a chance.

The Panther girls did their share as well to stoke the fires of excitement. Powell opened regional play with a triple-overtime roller coaster ride, then had to turn around and replay the whole game two days later for the right to be the No. 3 seed out of 3A West.

When all the dust settled at the state tournament, the Panther basketball programs had combined to win 38 games and spent more than half of the 2012-2013 season nestled among the state’s top five rankings in Class 3A.

Not to be outdone, Northwest College was enjoying its best postseason in who knows how long. With both the men’s and women’s teams advancing to the semifinals of the Region IX tournament in the same year, officials at Northwest College were digging through records trying to find out the last semifinal appearances by both teams, much less the last time both programs had advanced to the final four of their respective tournaments.

For head coach Janis Beal, who picked up her first postseason victory since assuming the head coaching position with the Trappers, a brilliant tournament run dominated by the Trappers’ defense came to an overtime ending. A fortuitous bounce here or there in the semifinals against Gillette was all that divided Northwest from a championship game appearance. After several seasons of watching the Trapper women end the season in one-and-done fashion at the regional tournament, it was refreshing to watch as excitement built with each passing contest.

Ditto for the Trapper men, who looked good against defending regional champion Otero until a 10-0 second half run by the Rattlers sent the scoreboard margin out to a level NWC could not recover from in the time remaining. Still, after suffering more than their share of tournament heartbreak in recent years, seeing the Trappers topple Casper College in the quarterfinals to advance to a spot in the semifinals was a boost for the community.

Trapper fans will miss the likes of sophomores Kennedy Allen, Junior Coleman, local product Leslie Thronburg and one-time national player of the week Jeffrey Solarin, as well as several others. Their exploits on the court will be missed as we watch them graduate this spring and move on and move up the ladder.

For head coach Brian Erickson, who has had an interim label attached to the front of his job title all season after inheriting the position from Andy Ward after he answered the call of a Division I coaching position, the 22-11 performance this season provided a seamless transition. The Trappers’ semifinal appearance was everything school officials could have hoped for when evaluating their options for filling the vacancy last spring.

Between the high school and college programs, Powell hardwood fans saw their teams win nearly two-thirds of the games played this season. The postseason runs by all four teams were deep and entertaining. Hopefully, it’s the sort of thing that builds more excitement when the calendar returns to winter next year and the gymnasiums start to fill once again.

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