Bingham guard Schyler Shoemaker is rarely, if ever, putting up the best stats for the Miners, but his presence and work, both on and off the court, have proven invaluable during this past season.
Shoemaker wasn’t able to play for his basketball team last year due to an ACL injury incurred playing football. His presence on the basketball team was missed, according to Bingham coach Jake Schroeder.
“He’s a great kid and we were banking on him starting for us last year,” Schroeder said. “It maybe could have been different for us if we had him, who knows?”
The Miners were upended by eventual 5A champion Layton in the quarterfinal round of last year’s playoffs and will have a chance to avenge that loss on Friday, taking on the Lancers in the semifinal round.
Shoemaker will be depended on in that game to do a lot of the dirty and unsung type of work, something he's done all season long for the Miners.
“He doesn’t demand the ball and he does similar things that no one even sees,” Schroeder said. “He rebounds well, he defends well and he can hit big shots for us.”
In Thursday's quarterfinal win, Shoemaker contributed 11 points and eight rebounds, along with a block and a steal to help lift the Miners past American Fork 71-57. Schroeder is confident he can get the same sort of effort from his junior on Friday and then in the 5A championship, should his team get by Layton.
“He’s a great kid and we have some characters on this team — guys who are really loud and then some who are real quiet, but Schyler is right in the middle for us and you need those guys,” Schroeder said. “He’s a huge part of what we do in games and preparing for games. We wouldn’t be the team we are without him.”
— Brandon Gurney
Slow start to season didn't dismay or derail Lancers
SALT LAKE CITY — When defending 5A state champion Layton High started its 2015-16 season by dropping seven of its first nine games, head coach Kelby Miller wasn't overly concerned.
After all, his team had three returning starters coming back from last year's championship ballclub, and one of them — stellar senior point guard Julian Blackmon — was sidelined for the entire preseason with a broken hand he suffered during the football season.
"The one thing I told the guys is we don't worry about rankings early on in the season," Miller said. "They don't give trophies for preseason records, either. I told my coaches that I've kind of forgotten all those games — those games to me, again, they don't count. They don't count. If we would've had a full group, maybe we look at it a little bit differently, but we didn't."
Sure enough, once Blackmon got his hand healthy and returned to the Lancers' lineup, it was only a matter of time before they got things rolling again. And once Region 2 play got underway, Layton was right back to its more familiar winning ways, coming out on top in 11 of 12 league games en route to capturing the region title.
And with two more wins in this year's state tournament, including Thursday's gut-wrenching 70-69 victory over Sky View, the Lancers are right back where they thought and hoped they'd be — in the 5A semifinals.
"We knew what we were getting back and I didn't mind that we were flying under the radar a little bit," Miller said. "I was fine with that and, even with late in the season when the rankings came out and we popped up in there, our guys were almost upset. It was like, 'Oh, no!'
"But you know, people know that we can play. It's not a secret.
"Like I told my coaches, the cream rises to the top, and we're in the mix when we need to be," he said.
The Lancers' ability to pull out tight contests has definitely paid huge dividends, and Thursday's thriller was certainly no exception, as their invaluable experience from last year's gritty championship run likely made a difference and helped them remain relatively calm down the stretch.
"That's what we're known for since last year, you know, close games," Blackmon said. "I'm just proud of the way my teammates played in the end. We played really good 'D' that last couple seconds, and you know we pulled out a good win.
"I really think that the experience that we had to go through last year, all those close games, it really just set us kind of apart from other teams that we're more of a finishing team. And we just proved it."
Senior teammate Dallin Watts agreed.
"I actually recognized after our last game at Weber State, I walked out on the court and I didn't feel nervous because we're used to that environment," he said. "We had a lot of guys who have been playing in that environment and I think it's part of what's blessed us."
"Obviously when you bring back three starters and some other guys who have experience, they don't get rattled in those situations," Miller said. "And you know, it showed, it showed tonight that these guys can pull these games out.
"It wouldn't be a Layton state tournament game if there wasn't some excitement."
Blackmon scored 27 points in Thursday's thriller, including the game-winning basket with 5 seconds left. Dallin Watts added 20 points for Layton, and Chandler Obray contributed 14 points and 14 rebounds to the Lancers' winning cause.
"That's one good thing about our team is that it's not just one player this year," Blackmon said. "We're a 'team' team this year, and there's different players that step up every game. You don't know who's gonna go off because anyone can."
— Randy Hollis
Westlake has moved on well from four-game skid
During a four-game skid from Feb. 2-16, Westlake quickly found itself on the outside of the 5A playoff picture looking in. It was a frustrating reality for a team that won its first 11 games of the season.
Fortunately for the Thunder, they regrouped quickly.
Knowing they could still make the playoffs if they won their last two regular season games and then a Region 4 play-in game, the Grizzlies regrouped quickly — and know they’re in the 5A semifinals.
“We had some adversity. Our league is very tough. You learn a lot when you go through something like that. You learn a lot about overcoming adversity, fixing some of your faults,” said Westlake coach Nate Carling.
The biggest fault was correctable — and the other still needed to be learned.
The correctable issue was shot selection, which Carling was very pleased with how his team ran the offense against Brighton. Even when the shots weren’t falling, Westlake continued to run the offense.
That at times wasn’t the case during the losing skid.
“We’d run an action or a set and if it didn’t work, the next guy who touched it would shoot, settle for shots. Now we’re more patient, we get the shot we want. I think that’s a big part of what’s helped us out lately,” said Carling.
Secondly, Westlake is still learning to win — after all Tuesday’s first-round win was the program’s first in school history.
“Guys are figuring out how to win, and that’s a big thing coming to this program when there hasn’t been much of a tradition, learning how to win has really been an emphasis, and I’m really proud of our guys for figuring it out,” said Carling.
— James Edward
Jackson wins battle, but Grizzlies win war
Lone Peak had the name, the game, the rich tradition and the best player in the state in senior guard Frank Jackson, who'll be playing his basketball for the storied Duke University program next season.
Copper Hills had five spunky guys who shared the basketball and played tough, determined team defense.
And, as great as Jackson is, he couldn't beat the Grizzlies without a supporting cast.
So while Jackson scored 38 points in an often dazzling display of athletic ability, it was Copper Hills that came away with the victory, 74-59, in Thursday night's quarterfinal clash of the 5A state tournament.
"He's one of the best players I've ever seen in Utah, and I've been here a long time," Copper Hills coach Andrew Blanchard said. "Our game plan was just to try to make him shoot tough shots, which I feel like we did, keep him out of the paint and make him shoot 3s, and we did that.
"He's gonna get his — what'd he get tonight, 40? Remarkable — but we shut their other guys down, got a hand up and made it hard for 'em."
Copper Hills senior guard Preston Sanchez, who scored 25 points of his own and was one of four Grizzlies players to score in double figures — Jackson, meanwhile, was the Knights' only player to score more than eight — tipped his hat to Jackson's greatness as well.
"Frank is a heck of a player. Words can't even explain how good he is," Sanchez said. "... We had to play together as a team, play team defense, because one player can't guard him. You have to play together as a team on him."
Thursday's victory sends the Grizzlies roaring into Friday evening's 5A semifinals against Westlake, which turned back Brighton 54-48 in an earlier quarterfinal matchup.
"Westlake's good," Blanchard said. "Coach (Nate) Carling was my assistant for a year at Mountain View, and he does a tremendous job. He's a class act all the way, and we're gonna have to really play hard to beat 'em."
Copper Hills junior guard Stockton Shorts, the unofficial captain of the "all-name" team, was trying to soak up the elation of Thursday's victory while knowing full well that the Grizzlies needed to get their feet squarely back on the ground right away in time for their semifinal showdown.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," he said of reaching the semis. "We've just got to prep, keep doing what we're doing and play defense. Our key is defense — that's what we want to focus on because then our offense will come."
— Randy Hollis
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org