CEDAR CITY — The Gunnison Bulldogs held a lead for the majority of their 2A quarterfinal matchup against South Summit.
But when the Wildcats’ Cole Richins hit a big shot and a big free throw to pull South Summit to within just a point and 12.8 seconds left, the outcome was in question.
At that juncture, Gunnison coach Ben Hill called timeout, drew up a play and let his team finish what it had started.
“We’ve been working on it in practice,” Hill said of the picket-fence play that secured the Bulldogs’ 59-54 victory. “And now we finally had a chance to run it.”
Following Richins’ bucket, the Wildcats immediately fouled Gunnison and Colby Caldwell made two free throws to extend the lead to three points, 57-54, with 11.6 on the clock. South Summit was looking for an open 3-pointer but turned the ball over, and Hill used his last timeout.
The final play began with the Bulldogs lining up perpendicular to the sideline. Caldwell, at the front of the line, took off to his own basket, received a touchdown pass over his shoulder and put in an uncontested layup as the clock expired.
“We haven’t run it until now, and it worked well,” Hill said.
Although the final sequence was exciting, Gunnison could have secured the victory earlier in the game by making free throws. The Wildcats began fouling early in the final period in an attempt to create more offensive possessions, and the tactic worked in their favor. The Bulldogs hit just 10 of 16 attempts over the final five minutes and 17 of 26 attempts in the game.
“And we’re great free throw shooters,” Hill said when asked about his team’s performance at the line. “I think it’s the new environment, the pressure, the big stadium. I think nerves just got to them, but normally we hit those.”
Caldwell led Gunnison with 20 points and five rebounds and Kaz Mogle had 12 points, six boards and three assists in what was a physical game from the start. The teams combined for 29 team fouls, two technical fouls and 37 free throw attempts.
Gunnison, the second seed from Region 16, will next face Emery, the second seed from Region 15, in the 7 p.m. semifinal matchup Friday. The Wildcats will meet Waterford in the consolation bracket at 4:10 p.m. Friday.
Sarah Thomas is a graduate of the University of Utah and has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org