Since the start of the season, Powell High School head boys’ basketball coach Chase Kistler knew his team had the talent to be a force in the postseason.
The Panthers (8-11 overall) proved it over the weekend at the 3A West Regional Tournament in Worland, winning their first two contests to advance to the championship game. All three of Powell’s opponents were teams the Panthers lost to earlier in the season, but they got a measure of redemption when it counted against Big Piney (9-12) and Pinedale (14-7).
While Powell came up short against Lander (18-4) for the title with a 74-64 loss, the team will head to the state tournament in Casper this week as the No. 2 seed out of the west.
“It was a great effort; the guys played hard,” Kistler said of the weekend. “I was impressed with how much fight they had in them.”
The team now turns its focus to a Thursday game at the Casper Events Center against Torrington. To make up for a lack of size, the physical Trailblazers shoot a lot from the perimeter, averaging 20 3-point attempts a game.
“They [Torrington] play a lot of guard play, four or five around the perimeter,” Kistler said. “They shoot a lot of threes. Defensively, it will be a game of matchups, do we have guys that can play on the perimeter. I think we do. I think we match up very well.”
The Panthers will be shorthanded, as seniors Carson Heinen and Kain Baxter have been suspended for a team rules violation and will miss the state tourney; they also missed the Lander game.
But Kistler said PHS’ goals haven’t changed.
“... Even watching us play against Lander, one of the best teams, we played pretty well. I think the guys know they can still get this job done,” the coach said. “We’re just going to have to play a little bit harder and be a little bit more creative and open-minded going into this last week. We’re moving forward.”
Panthers 61, Big Piney 39
It was a determined Big Piney team that took the court against the Panthers Thursday morning, and for the first half, the Punchers held their own. The two teams met earlier in the season, with Big Piney upsetting the Panthers on Powell’s home floor 48-38.
But after getting outscored 14-9 in the first quarter, the Panthers found their rhythm in the second, taking a 27-23 lead into the break. Big Piney had eight turnovers in the second quarter and Powell took advantage, led by eight points from Heinen, six by Baxter and another six from Landon Lengfelder, who hit a pair of 3-pointers.
Powell opened the second half with a 12-0 run and never looked back en route to a 61-39 win.
“With Big Piney, I just thought we controlled the game completely,” Kistler said. “We shot well, we just played a complete game, really. We played as a team.”
Heinen, who’d missed the first matchup with Big Piney, netted 20 points to lead all scorers. William Preator and Dalton Woodward finished with 10 points each, while Lengfelder and Baxter chipped in six apiece. Jesse Brown finished with four points and Kaelan Groves added three.
Panthers 52, Pinedale 42
In a rematch of the season-opening game against Pinedale, the Panthers were again looking for revenge.
The Panthers jumped out to a 12-6 lead in the first quarter, but Pinedale battled back to trail just 22-20 at the half. Heinen continued his assault on the rim, scoring 12 points in the first half, followed by Preator with six points. Pinedale’s Daniel Gosar scored 18 of his team’s 20 points in the first half.
The Wranglers continued to play tough in the second half, taking a 33-32 lead into the fourth quarter. But Powell exploded in the final frame behind timely 3-pointers from Preator and Groves, putting together a 20-9 run to win 52-42 and advance to the championship game against Lander.
“It was another great team effort, and our defense was just spot-on,” Kistler said. “Our defense and intensity was there the whole weekend, high for four quarters.”
Brown and Groves were tasked with defending two of the leading scorers in the state in Pinedale’s Gosar and Blake Illoway, both averaging around 16 points a game for the season.
After Gosar scored 18 in the first half, Brown shut down the senior in the second, holding him to just six more points.
“Jesse [Brown] was making him [Gosar] work hard in the first half, and by the second half, he was kind of tired,” Kistler said. “Kaelan Groves really had a great game against Illoway, shut him down. I think he finished with six. It was just a good defensive team effort.”
Heinen again led the Panthers with 18 points, followed by 11 from Preator. Brown netted seven points, while Groves and Woodward added six apiece.
Lander 74, Panthers 64
Lander came into Saturday night’s championship game ranked as the No. 2 team in the state, with a pair of six-point victories over Powell.
Despite being without their leading scorer, Powell kept it close, trailing 38-31 at the half. Woodward took over from Heinen as the primary weapon in the paint in the first half, collecting eight points to lead the team.
The two teams played to a virtual stalemate in the second half, and with just over a minute to play, Powell was within six points at 70-64 with Brown at the foul line. The junior missed the front side of a 1-and-1, however, and that was as close as the Panthers would get, as Lander held on for the 74-64 win.
Woodward netted 14 points in the loss. Sophomore Mason Marchant followed with 13 points, while Groves finished with 10. Preator and Lengfelder added nine points each, and Brown finished with seven.