Basketball: Middle Park wins cross-county contest against West Grand |

Basketball: Middle Park wins cross-county contest against West Grand

Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

The cross-county rivalry between West Grand and Middle Park high schools was on display during Thursday night’s boys basketball game with the Panthers coming out on top.

In the first game of the High Country Tournament held in Granby, Middle Park’s hoopsters defeated West Grand’s Mustangs 62-48. The Panthers led from the opening minutes of the contest and maintained control until the final buzzer.

“It was a good game for us,” said Panther coach Brian Reynolds. “We concentrated on what we needed to do to be successful.”

As the first quarter began, Middle Park went immediately on the attack and built up a lead with baskets by Zilvinas Sutkus, Zane Bickler, Mike Schmidt and Ian Sutton as well as a three-pointer by Jared Rojo.

Surprised by the Panthers’ quick assault, West Grand tried to catch up with baskets by Cory Davis, Mackenzie Widener and Marshall Kraker, but finished the first period trailing 19-9.

At the start of the second quarter, the Panthers continued their assault on West Grand’s basket with scores by Sam Damon, Sutkus and Bickler. Then their attack stalled after a series of Middle Park turnovers allowed the Mustangs’ Menhennett, Kraker, Davis and Mackenzie Widener to score several baskets and free throws to narrow the gap to seven.

But just as it looked as if the momentum might have shifted to West Grand, the Panthers got their game back on track. In the final couple of minutes before halftime, a string of baskets by Jordan Reynolds, Sutkus, Sutton and Schmidt pushed Middle Park firmly into the lead 35-20.

The third quarter saw the Panthers sinking one basket after another by Sutton, Schmidt and Bickler. The Mustangs’ Widener, Menhennett and Ryan Smith retaliated, but then were matched by baskets by Middle Park’s Sutkus and Smith.

Holding a 54-32 advantage entering the fourth quarter, the Panthers pushed their lead to 23 points with scores by Schmidt, Bickler and Andrew Clausen.

Just when it looked as if it might be a complete blowout, West Grand’s Mackenzie Widener pushed himself into high gear. In a frenzy of scoring, he put in a string of baskets and free-throw points that reduced Middle Park’s lead before the game clock ran out.

“In the first half, we had way too many turnovers,” Reynolds said. “That was the big thing we talked about during halftime. In the second, we didn’t have one. What helped us was our defense that allowed us to make those fastbreak layups.

“In the second half, we didn’t have to set up our offense. All we had to do was push the ball and make the layups,” he said.

Middle Park’s scoring was fairly balanced in Thursday’s game. Schmidt led with 14 points, followed by Sutkus with 13 and Sutton with 11.

“What I like is that we are playing as a team,” Reynolds said. “Nobody is worried about their personal stats, but (they) are playing for the team’s success. When that kind of mentality happens on a team, a coach can count himself as fortunate.”

With their win over their always-tough West Grand opponents, Middle Park’s boys basketball team is starting to really believe in its chances.

“We are now at 5-1 for our season,” Reynolds said. “The last time we had that kind of success so early, we ended up in post-season play. We’re playing well and I think we’re right where we need to be to be successful this season.”

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