The Panthers went 2-2 in the Class 3A West Regional Tournament in Mountain View, good enough for fourth place and a berth in the state tourney in Casper. Powell will play top-ranked Wheatland at 9 p.m. Thursday.
Wheatland won the Class 3A East regular season and regional titles and is ranked No. 1 in the state. It has a 21-4 overall record and went 13-1 in conference play. Powell is 17-9 and went 10-4 in the West, good for third place.
“I was not disappointed,” head coach Chase Kistler said Sunday of his team’s showing in the regional tourney.
“Not with the type of games we had,” Kistler said. “We had a tough first-round game against a team that didn’t want to lose, and then we turned around and had to play Cody. That was an emotional battle for a lot of our kids.”
PHS defeated Lyman 56-49 in the opening round of the regional on Thursday night, fell to Cody 73-60 Friday night, then defeated Jackson 60-56 in overtime Saturday afternoon to clinch a state tourney berth. The Panthers wrapped up regional play with a 54-42 loss to Star Valley.
The opening-round win over Lyman was Powell’s most impressive performance.
The Panthers jumped to a 16-8 lead after one period behind three 3-pointers for junior guard Zach Heny and held onto a 25-16 edge at halftime. Powell was ahead by 14 twice in the third period and seemed in control all the way, even though the Eagles made a brief run in the fourth quarter.
But with Heny finishing with 22 points and junior forward Carter Baxter adding 11, the Panthers hung on and set their sights on Cody.
“Zach was shooting well,” Kistler said Friday. “He was hitting them.”
Tyson Gillies paced Lyman with 20 points and added nine rebounds.
Powell aspired to a regional title, but a second loss to Cody in six days ended that dream. The Panthers fell despite a school-record 39-point performance from junior guard Kalei Smith. The old record was 35; Smith also has had games of 34 (twice), 33 and 30 this season and led the West by averaging more than 20 points a game.
“He was definitely focused during the game,” Kistler said. “He was extremely motivated — I don’t think it had anything to do with the record. He really wanted to beat Cody.”
Smith took 27 shots, more than half the team’s total of 53, and hit 14 of them, including going 4-of-9 from 3-point range. He added eight rebounds and three assists.
Against Cody, Powell led 56-53 at the end of three but was outscored 21-4 in the fourth period. The Panthers missed free throws, threw the ball away and fell off the pace to end up in daylight play Saturday.
Senior guard Cory Heny had six points and five assists. Senior post Garrett Michael added six points and senior forward Hayden Cragoe had three points and seven rebounds.
Cody was led by Brandon Hinze, who scored 25 points, grabbed five boards and made three steals.
Shortly after the game, Kistler said he felt the referees hurt the Panthers. By Sunday, he had mellowed somewhat.
“There was a lot of different things that happened during that fourth quarter,” he said. “We didn’t get a lot of calls to go our way.
“It was a different style of calling,” Kistler said. “It was a lot rougher and they let the kids play in that fourth quarter. It cost us a lot of points and we couldn’t score inside.”
He said Smith’s “legs gave out a little” in the fourth quarter. But he said Cody also played well down the stretch.
“They got hot, they got really hot,” he said.
Kistler said the players were upset in the locker room and he had to remind them of what they faced on Saturday.
“I told them, ‘Now I need you guys to grow up quick,’ ” he said. “We had to play a good team quick.”
Against Jackson in an early-afternoon start Saturday, Powell struggled to get into the game, committing turnovers and generally playing sluggishly in the first half.
The Panthers fell behind 9-0 as Jackson hit three triples before Smith scored to make it 9-2. Zach Heny added a 3-pointer and soon PHS was within two points, 11-9. But once again its tempo slowed, and Jackson held a 15-9 lead at the end of the first quarter and built the lead to 33-23 at halftime.
“Our guys came out really tight. They were nervous,” Kistler said. “They were thinking, ‘Man, we’re going to have to be the team to go home.’”
He said he talked to them at halftime and told them, “You’re a better team.” They proved it in the second half.
Powell emerged from the locker room with more passion and energy, led by Baxter’s offense and rebounding. When Zach Heny nailed a 3-pointer from the corner, PHS had come within 33-31.
Powell’s tourney-long troubles with the referees became more obvious, as several players glanced at the men in the striped shirts after some calls and non-calls.
The game was deadlocked at 47-47 with two minutes to play. Smith backed his defender down and hit the shot and was fouled, knocking Jackson’s Gatlin Topp from the game with his fifth foul. Smith made the free throw but he was called for a lane violation, wiping the point from the scoreboard.
Baxter fouled out and Jackson’s Brenner Peterson hit both free throws to tie the game.
But Smith, despite being hit in the face, hit yet another tough shot to make it 51-49. Jackson tied it with 15 seconds to play. Powell could not score, and the game went into overtime.
A Zach Heny bucket and a Cragoe free throw gave Powell a three-point lead early in overtime, but Will Elzemeyer scored, was fouled and hit from the line to knot the game at 54-54.
Smith hit a jumper to make it 56-54 Powell. Jackson’s Jeremy Shockley missed but got his own rebound and was fouled by Cragoe as he went for a second shot. Shockley hit the second.
Smith drove and scored again to open up a three-point edge for the Panthers. He then blocked a Jackson shot on the next trip down the court.
Jeremy Shockley went to the hoop but Cragoe blocked it. Shockley, who scored 16 points, fouled Cragoe, which was his fifth. Cragoe nailed both free throws to make it 60-56 and the Panthers were state-tourney bound.
Smith scored 22 points, had six boards, blocked four shots and added two assists. Baxter and Zach Heny both scored 13 and Cragoe had seven points, eight rebounds, four assists and a blocked shot.
Tristan Shockley added 15 for the Broncs.
Powell swept Jackson in three games this season and came back from deficits in two of the wins.
“It was kind of weird, every time I played Jackson I felt comfortable,” Kistler said. “Not to bad-mouth them, they’re a good team. But I felt we could handle them.”
The Saturday night contest for third place was tough sledding for a seemingly disinterested Powell team.
PHS took a 2-0 lead at the start and never was in front again. Smith sat out most of the first half and Powell was down by double digits for much of the game against the team it fell to on a buzzer-beater for the 3A title last spring. Kistler ran a lot of players onto the floor throughout the first half.
Smith played more in the second half and Powell played with more passion to come closer, but Star Valley hit enough shots to hold a 13-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Panthers did not have the energy to make a game of it, with Smith going to the bench for the last three-plus minutes and Cory Heny sidelined with a sore ankle.
Smith scored 14 points, Michael had eight points and four boards, senior guard Blake Schwan hit a pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers to add six and Zach Heny and Cragoe both had five.
Cole Critchfield paced Star Valley with 13 and Trace Haderlie added 12.
Cory Heny turned the ankle against Cody and aggravated it against Jackson, so the decision was made not to play him against Star Valley, Kistler said.
“I’m competitive. There’s no way I wanted to lose a game,” the coach said. “But I had to be smart about it.”
Now he has to turn his team’s attention to the state tournament.
Powell is 1-6 this season against the top four seeds, Cody, Lander, Wheatland and Rawlins, but it did defeat Buffalo, which finished second in the East during the regular season.
Kistler said Powell without Cory Heny and other players, including Cragoe, was not 100 percent when the Panthers lost to Wheatland 63-57 and to Rawlins 66-60 in December.
“The teams we played early in the season, we had only half our team going,” he said.
Now Powell will face those teams in front of large crowds on a neutral court and, if Heny’s ankle responds, the Panthers will be at full strength.
“Upsets happen that way,” Kistler said. “I know they’re good teams. We’re going to have play well but we have a right to say we belong there.”