They’re playing for the past 70 or 80 kids who didn’t get this chance. —Monticello coach Tony Esplin
RICHFIELD — When the Monticello Buckaroos stepped onto the court Friday night, they weren’t just representing themselves or the school they love.
They were playing for all the boys who worked and dreamed of playing for a state title for 20 long years.
“They’re playing for the past 70 or 80 kids who didn’t get this chance,” said coach Tony Esplin after the Buckaroos defeated Duchesne 62-46 in the 1A semifinals Friday at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield. “We reminded them of that earlier. We said, ‘Play for yourselves first, but just remember there are a lot of other kids that wished they could be here, and you’re there in support of them, too.’ It was a fun day.”
The best part was that the Buckaroos, who won on a last-second 3-point shot from Dillon Maughan Thursday, led the whole game Friday night.
Maughan was the team’s leading scorer with 15 points, five rebounds and five assists, while three others reached double digits. Tanner Eardley scored 14 points, while Sheldon Black added 13 points and Austin Maloy finished with 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and three steals.
At the end of the third quarter, the Eagles pulled within seven points, and Esplin had flashes of last year’s loss to Duchesne.
“We had a nine-point lead on Duchesne going into the fourth quarter,” he said. “Oh yeah, believe me, it was a thought! But we hit our free throws tonight, and that was a huge difference. It wasn’t just one kid — they were all doing it. I’m proud of them. They’ve worked hard.”
The Buckaroos went 23 of 28 for an 82 percent free-throw shooting performance. They also had more assists (11 to Duchesne's five) and more steals (nine to Duchesne's two), while turning the ball over fewer times (11 mistakes to Duchesne’s 20).
The Eagles had a balanced offensive attack, but they couldn’t hang on to the momentum long enough to take the game from Monticello. They were led by Alex Gatherum, who scored eight points, and Trent Roberts and Daniel Hanberg, who scored seven points each. Matt Muir, Blake Jones, Braxton Spencer and Wyatt Redmund all added six points each in the loss. The Eagles will play Rich in the third-place game Saturday afternoon.
Monticello will take on Panguitch at 5 p.m. for the 1A state title.
The last time the Buckaroos won a state title was 1994, and Maughan said the players are mindful of how rare this opportunity is.
“This means the world to the kids,” he said.
And then, without breaking a smile, he adds, “Dynamite comes in a small package.”
Esplin said he was concerned the emotional victory on Thursday would leave the players drained Friday.
“You always do,” he said. “But that’s small-school ball; you don’t have much depth. You just have to go with who got you here, and that’s what we’re doing.”
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