It’s a unique chance to stay close. We’ve got to do our part to make sure we’re in a place to take advantage of it. —Ridgeline coach Graydon Buchmiller

In his 18 years coaching basketball in Cache Valley, Graydon Buchmiller has never seen a unique opportunity quite like what’s been placed in front of the teams up North this year.

Long bus rides in the 3A playoffs are the norm for Cache Valley teams, whether it’s to Ogden, Salt Lake, Cedar City or St. George. That’s not the case this year.

The last three rounds of the 3A state tournament will be played next week at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum at Utah State, less than six miles from both Ridgeline and Logan High School, and only 24 miles from Bear River.

The tourney’s location gives those three schools a unique opportunity to enjoy a rare home-crowd advantage in the playoffs — if they can get there. The opening round of this year’s 3A tournament takes place this Friday at home sites.

“It’s a unique chance to stay close,” said Ridgeline coach Graydon Buchmiller. “We’ve got to do our part to make sure we’re in a place to take advantage of it.”

First-year school Ridgeline has the luxury of hosting Hurricane in its opener this Friday after tying Juan Diego for the Region 11 title and earning the No. 1 seed via a coin flip. Logan and Bear River, however, finished third and fourth respectively in Region 11 and both must travel to St. George for their openers against Dixie and Desert Hills.

Dixie and Desert Hills will certainly be favored to win on Friday, but their coaches know the Northern Teams have even more incentive to pull off the upset with the next rounds in their backyard.

“They’ve got our full attention, they’re a very good team. (Bear River) is probably one of the best four seeds I’ve seen in a long time. They’ve got a great coach and kids who play hard,” said Desert Hills coach Wade Turley.

Desert Hills won eight straight games to end the regular season and claim the Region 9 title. That included a 51-48 win over Dixie, which won the first meeting between the teams on Jan. 13.

“Kids have showed a lot of resilience and a lot of trust in each other and won a lot of close games. So that’s a good sign, kids are able to be focused and able to finish up games and make their free throws and execute down the stretch,” said Turley.

That could come in handy against Bear River, which has played a lot of close games as well.

In the opening round Region 9 and Region 11 crossover and play each other, which has created a lot of intriguing games — perhaps none bigger than Pine View (17-5) at Juan Diego (19-3), two teams with legitimate state title aspirations.

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That match-up is a stark contrast to the four games pitting Region 10 and Region 12 teams in the first round. Not one of those games features two teams with winning records, and one actually features two teams with losing records.

That’s the reality of the bracket, though, and the potential is there for some unlikely teams to march into the quarterfinals and perhaps beyond.

The four less heralded first-round games this Friday are Stansbury (7-13) at North Sanpete (6-15), Carbon (11-11) at Tooele (9-13), Union (5-15) at Canyon View (13-10) and Richfield (8-11) at Grantsville (16-7).