The Cody boys basketball team needed to find an answer after an overtime loss to Evanston in the opening round of the 4A West Regional Tournament on Thursday in Star Valley.
The Broncs ended up finding two in a pair of consecutive wins to earn a spot in this week’s state tournament in Casper, the first time in a while Cody has qualified for the 4A tournament.
The Broncs lost to Evanston on Thursday 58-54, then rebounded to take down Kelly Walsh 49-35 and Rock Springs 60-47 to eventually earn the No. 4 seed out of the West at state. Jackson got by Cody 59-51 in the third-place game to earn the three seed.
Cody vs. Evanston
After taking down Evanston by 33 points just three weeks ago, the Broncs looked to be the prohibitive favorite heading into their opening round matchup with the Red Devils.
They appeared to be on their way to another big win early too.
The Cody defense forced Evanston into difficult shots in the first quarter, Luke Talich scored four straight to start things out and Grady McCarten nailed a pair of triples to put the Broncs up 12-7 heading into the second.
The Broncs went on a 7-0 run early in the second, Talich added an offensive board and put back and an Eli Johnston layup in transition put the Broncs up 23-12 heading into halftime and make the run 11-0.
“That first game we played well defensively,” coach Jay McCarten said. “And then in the second half we gave up a couple of easy buckets and a couple of offensive rebounds.”
That led to a little switch-up on defense for the Broncs, but the Red Devils continued to roll.
Evanston outscored the Broncs 18-11 in the third, and then cut the lead to one at 34-33 early in the fourth.
A Wilkins Radakovich bucket stretched the lead to 38-33 and a Talich shot kept the lead at 40-38, but a three by the Red Devils put Evanston up 41-40 with 3 minutes to go.
The lead then changed hands a couple of times, highlighted by a thundering Talich two-handed slam, but it took a Kam Niemann jumper from the free throw line late to tie things up 46 and send it into overtime.
“I think we outplayed them in every aspect of the game except the scoreboard,” coach McCarten said. “But you have to hand it to them, they had a good game plan and we just kind of shut down and that’s just the way it works sometimes.”
The Devils sealed the win at the free throw line to advance in the championship bracket and force the Broncs into a must-win situation.
Talich finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds in the loss. Niemann added 12 points, Radakovich eight and McCarten six.
Cody vs. Kelly Walsh
Kelly Walsh started out packed in the lane on defense in Friday’s matchup, and Niemann made them pay with an early three. He added a drive and finish and the Broncs trailed 9-5 heading into the second.
“We stayed true to our zone against Kelly Walsh and forced them to shoot over the top,” coach McCarten said. “I thought we rebounded really well and finished strong.”
Cody started and finished the second quarter strong.
Talich found Niemann for an open three, the Bronc defense stepped up and wreaked havoc, and Radakovich followed up a pair of free throws with an offensive board and put back to top put the Broncs up 14-13, a lead they wouldn’t give up.
“I think we play better when we’re the underdog and our back is against the wall,” Radakovich said. “That was evident in this game because we were in a lose and go home situation.”
Radakovich finished with 11 boards to help the Broncs to a 29-15 rebounding advantage over the Trojans.
Niemann capped off a steal in the third with a layup to put the Broncs up 33-23 with just over a minute to go.
The Trojans made a couple of runs in the fourth to cut the lead to six, but Radakovich would find a cutting Talich for a slam and McCarten finished big at the charity stripe as the Broncs stayed alive in the bracket with the 14-point win.
Niemann led the way with 20 points, McCarten added 13 and Radakovich six.
Cody vs. Rock Springs
The win pitted the Broncs against a talented Rock Springs team in another elimination game.
Talich and Robby Porter drained triples in a first quarter that ended up tied at 10.
Both defenses forced the offenses into tough possessions each trip down the floor, but a runner from Chase Hatch gave the Broncs a 17-15 lead, and Talich found Trey Schroeder in the corner for three to help put the Broncs up 20-18 heading into the break.
“Rock Springs is super athletic and a really good team,” coach McCarten said. “But we ended up shooting well in that game and when you shoot well it gives you a good chance against a team like that.”
The Broncs started the third quarter on a 10-1 run, but the Tigers would cut that lead to one before Radakovich capped the period with a three-point play.
The Broncs stretched the lead from there and held off the Tigers for the 13-point victory, a spot in the state tournament and a chance at a third-place regionals finish against Jackson.
“That Rock Springs game was super physical and very demanding,” Talich said. “We were pretty beat up.”
Cody vs. Jackson
After a gruelling victory against Rock Springs, the Broncs had just over an hour to prepare for Jackson in the third-place game.
After a tight first quarter, Jackson broke open a 26-all tie in the second with back-to-back threes, but Hatch finished off the half with a strong drive, bucket and the foul to cut the lead to 34-31 heading into the break.
Cody eventually tied things up at 40 heading into the fourth quarter.
“I thought in the fourth you could really see our fatigue set in,” coach McCarten said. “We missed some easy buckets, but I am proud of how hard these guys fought all weekend.”
Jace Jarrett converted a steal plus the and-one to tie things up at 45 in the fourth. He finished with nine points.
Talich split a pair of defenders moments later for the score and the Broncs took a 49-48 lead with 3:21 to go.
Jackson responded with a three, however, and pulled away to earn the three seed out of the West at state.
Talich finished with 14 points, Radakovich 10 and Schroeder seven.
“We don’t want to make any excuses, but that Jackson game we didn’t really show up to play,” Talich said. “But we definitely had some great team play and great team wins in the tournament.”
The Broncs will face the top seed out of the East in Thunder Basin at 9 p.m. at Natrona County High School.
“Going to state means a lot to the guys, especially coach McCarten,” Radakovich said. “He told us Cody hadn’t been to state at the 4A level since 2008 and it is awesome to make that happen again.”
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