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3A high school boys basketball: Wasatch’s magical playoff run comes to an end

Published: Wednesday, July 29 2015 8:39 p.m. MDT

Junior forward Ben Pelo scores on a layup in the second half of Wasatch's loss to Snow Canyon. (Kenny Bristow) Junior forward Ben Pelo scores on a layup in the second half of Wasatch's loss to Snow Canyon. (Kenny Bristow)

They weren’t one and done. They weren’t even two and through. They were only three points away from making it to the championship. The Wasatch boys basketball team was poised to make a run at a 3A state trophy but simply ran out of the magical gas that had propelled it into the third round of the state tournament.

On Friday night, the Wasps fell to number one seed Morgan in a battle that at times resembled a UFC match. The underdog Wasatch squad fought with all it had and for the most part was successful. All except for a shot or two that just would not fall.

When the clock read 2.9 seconds remaining in the game and the Trojans were up by two, Wasatch set up a play for shooting guard Cooper Ballstaedt to penetrate as far down the court as he could and take his best shot at a three pointer. It all worked except that the difficult running 30-foot shot with defenders all around bounced off the glass to the left of the rim, and the improbable run was over.

Jackson Gordon of Wasatch takes the ball upcourt after a pass from teammate Casey Peterson during Saturday's 3A game for third place. (Kenny Bristow) Jackson Gordon of Wasatch takes the ball upcourt after a pass from teammate Casey Peterson during Saturday's 3A game for third place. (Kenny Bristow)

The fans at the Dee Events Center cheered wildly at what might have been the best game of the tournament. And Wasatch was applauded for its performance, which should serve as a consolation since the team wasn't even supposed to be on the bracket for the tournament. The Wasps, however, did not see things that way.

“I was sure we were going to win state,” said Ballstaedt. “I just had such a feeling of belief. I’m still kind of in shock,” he added. The guard wasn’t really bothered by the last-gasp attempt — that would have taken a miracle. It was Wasatch’s possession with the score still tied at 50 that was hard for him to swallow. “We had it all set up for the last shot and did it perfectly. I’m just so blown away that it didn’t happen,” the senior said. “I’ll be playing that one back in my head for a long time.”

Senior Chris Johnson puts up a shot over the outstretched arms of Snow Canyon defenders during Saturday's consolation game for third place in 3A. (Kenny Bristow) Senior Chris Johnson puts up a shot over the outstretched arms of Snow Canyon defenders during Saturday's consolation game for third place in 3A. (Kenny Bristow)

For their hard fought efforts against Morgan, the Wasps got to turn around after getting back to Heber City after midnight and return to Ogden for the third-place consolation game against Snow Canyon Saturday.

The Wasps decided to have some fun and make the most of their last time on the floor together. They came out energetic — running and gunning and sinking four three pointers in the first quarter. The Warriors matched Wasatch and eventually bested Wasatch on their way to a 25-18 lead after one quarter.

But the Wasps slowed the pace with their tenacious defense, only allowing Snow Canyon five points to their 14 in the second quarter. An eight-point scoring barrage, highlighted by three pointers from Ballstaedt and junior Ben Pelo, gave Wasatch a 26-25 advantage. The two teams then traded baskets the rest of the half with the Wasps coming out with a two-point lead, 32-30.

Lonnie Magnusson, center, addresses his team during the Wasps' final timeout in what could be his last time as Wasatch head basketball coach. (Kenny Bristow) Lonnie Magnusson, center, addresses his team during the Wasps' final timeout in what could be his last time as Wasatch head basketball coach. (Kenny Bristow)

The Wasps were showing little effect from the previous night’s loss. Snow Canyon, which was knocked into the consolation game from a thrashing at the hands of Bear River, appeared to be hungry enough to want the third-place plaque as well.

The second half consisted of more of the same closely played basketball with both teams answering each other’s attempt at running away with it. Not until the Warriors broke a 40-40 tie with five straight points did either team look ready to take charge. Junior Jackson Gordon sank a three pointer followed by a Jeff Murdock bucket to pull Wasatch to within four when the third period came to a close.

Wasatch, despite good play on offense, was never able to regain the lead in the fourth. Each of its scores was quickly answered by Snow Canyon, which may have been a sign of the Wasps wearing down. Justin Dorius’ consecutive scores of a field goal and a free throw closed the gap to 60-59 with less than a minute to play, but it was two Warrior free throws that put the Wasps away for good. Wasatch had one more chance at a three to tie it, but it would not go, and Snow Canyon converted after the rebound and walked away with the 66-61 victory.

Once again, the Wasps had at least eight scorers on the board. Pelo led the way with 13 points, followed by Jeff Murdock with 11 and Ballstaedt added 10. Pelo, Nate Dow and Chris Johnson each had seven rebounds for Wasatch.

After the third-place game, Lonnie Magnusson, who has plans to step down after this season as the Wasps' head coach, explained how difficult it was to come back and play a consolation game the following day after a bitter defeat. “It’s hard,” he said as he sighed and then paused. “We wanted to win it (state). We thought we could win it. It just didn’t go that way for us. But it’s been a rewarding season — it really has,” he said with a smile. “I’m proud of all the guys for never quitting and playing hard. It was a tremendous year for us.”

Kenny Bristow is a contributor to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: kennywbristow@gmail.com

Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company