Middle Park hoopsters finish first at Meeker tournament | SkyHiNews.com

Middle Park hoopsters finish first at Meeker tournament

Will Bublitz
Sky-Hi Daily News

Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News

Rebounding from a season-opening loss to an out-of-state team the previous weekend, Middle Park High’s boys basketball team swept to victory in all three of its games at the annual Meeker Tournament last week.

The trio of victories earned the Panthers the Meeker Tournament’s championship title. This was a step up from last year’s results when Middle Park finished as runner-up to the host Meeker team.

The wins in last week’s tournament were over Hayden, Rangely and Altamont, a team from near Vernal, Utah.

“Realistically, they were all from smaller 2A high schools,” said coach Brian Reynolds. “But the tournament was a good gauge to show us that we are doing some things right.”

The tournament in Meeker opened Thursday, Dec. 6, with Middle Park’s hoopsters trouncing Hayden 86-52.

The Panthers quickly took control of the game and finished the first quarter with a 20-14 lead. In the second quarter, Middle Park’s defense picked up speed and held Hayden to only eight points while the Panther offense racked up 19 more points.

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“It was kind of close in the first quarter because we were just warming up,” Reynolds said. “Then all of a sudden in the second quarter things started clicking. Our defense started creating turnovers and we took advantage to gain a little bit of a lead.”

The second half was much like the first with Middle Park continuing to outscore Hayden despite its attempts to rally and battle back.

Zilvinas Sutkus led the Panther offense with 22 points, followed by Ian Sutton with 17.

Reynolds had special praise for Kody Mourer who joined the team this year.

“In the second half, we asked Kody to cover Hayden’s point guard and he completely shut him down,” Reynolds said.

Middle Park continued its dominance in the tournament on Friday, Dec. 7, by whipping Rangely 67-49.

“This was another pretty tough game,” Reynolds said. “Actually, we didn’t lead during most of the play.”

As the game got under way, the Panthers took the small lead, holding a 12-9 edge over their opponents by the end of the first quarter. But Rangely was not about to roll over and fought back in the second quarter to match Middle Park basket for basket.

Realizing they had better pick up the pace, the Panthers went on the attack in the third quarter. The offense posted 17 points while Middle Park’s defense worked like demons to limit Rangely to six points.

Now holding a 49-35 lead, the Panthers did not rest but increased the gap in the fourth quarter by outscoring Rangely 18-14 to secure the win.

“Late in the third quarter, we broke it open,” Reynolds said. “Once again, it was due to our defense.”

In the game against Rangely, Middle Park had a much more balanced offense with most of the lineup scoring points. Sutton was the high scorer with 16 points, followed by Sutkus with 12 and Mike Schmidt with 11.

Reynolds commended Schmidt’s defensive playing against Rangely’s top player.

“Mike played awesome defense and got that Rangely player so frustrated that he was totally ineffective,” he said. “Mike was also very successful on offense in that game.”

Entering the tournament championship match Saturday, Dec. 8, Middle Park found itself facing a tough Altamont team. After a real battle, the Panthers finally took control in the second half and won the game and tournament title by a score of 65-56.

As the game began, the Panthers were taken by surprise by Altamont who put on a strong power play to take the lead 16-12 in the first quarter. In the second quarter, Middle Park was unable to narrow the gap as the teams went basket for basket.

Still trailing by four points going into halftime, the Panthers realized they had come out strongly in the second half if they were going to win. And that’s exactly what they did.

As the third quarter began, Middle Park’s offense kicked into high gear, racking up 17 points while the defense held Altamont to 10. In the fourth quarter, the Panthers outscored their opponents 22-16 to secure the victory.

“Altamont had this really awesome player who we were unable to stop and he scored 26 points,” Reynolds said. “While we were unable to defend against him as well as we wanted, we did shut down everybody else on their team. The next highest scorer for Altamont had eight points.”

One of the factors in the Panthers’ success against Altamont was their improved ball handling.

“We had only 12 turnovers in that game, which was incredible for us. Our usual average is 15,” Reynolds said.

Another factor in the victory was Middle Park’s balanced attack with almost the entire roster scoring and four players making it into double figures. Sutkus led with 14 points, followed by Sutton with 12, Jordan Reynolds with 11 and Mourer with 10.

“It was a good tournament and it was great to win the championship trophy,” Reynolds said. “But realistically, we’ve got to get prepared for Metro League play. In league games, we won’t be facing teams with one or two great athletes, but with three, four or even five. So we have to be strong defensively at all positions.”

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