HURRICANE — Being among the preseason favorites in region nine basketball this season, Hurricane High School was in a must-win situation just a third of the way through the Region Nine season against top-ranked Desert Hills Thunder Friday night.
Thanks to a huge effort by Boston Gubler, the Tigers earned a thrilling 54-53 victory to turn the region race back into a five-team battle.
It was the first meeting between the two teams since the Tigers defeated Desert Hills in the state 3A football finale, eliciting an occasional chant of 21-0 (the final score) from the Hurricane student section.
Gubler scored a game-high 27 points and was a dominating force at both ends of the floor as the Tigers evened it's record to 2-2, just a game behind Desert Hills (and 1 1/2 against surprising league leader Dixie).
"We came out really flat against the Cedar (a 38-36 loss Wednesday) and we knew we had to come out much stronger tonight especially against a team as good as Desert Hills," said Gubler, a 6-foot-8 senior.
"We knew we had nothing to lose so we all went out and played hard" the senior added first-year head coach Brian Viafanua was pleased with victory, but even more so with his team's effort.
Starting in reverse order, Viafanua said, "Second, we anticipated their pressure, and first, we knew if we could handle the ball against their pressure we would be alright.
"We really came out with a great effort tonight."
It didn't quite start that way for the Tigers, who turned the ball over three times in the game's early moments. But after that rocky start, Hurricane settled down and played?even with the Thunder
The Thunder enjoyed a slight advantage until a putback by Gubler gave Hurricane its first lead late in the second quarter, only to see Desert Hills standout Brandon Simister immediately answer with his only 3-pointer of the game.
The two teams went back and forth after that, finishing the first half deadlocked at 26 apiece.
While the first half was sloppy at times, the second half was a battle of two evenly-matched teams that played as hard as they could.
Midway through the third quarter, Gubler started to assert himself, outscoring the Thunder 8-2 on his own with a variety of power moves and even a nifty baby hook as Hurricane took its biggest lead of the game at 41-35.
Desert Hills followed that with a run of its own, sparked by Tyler Ott, Mike Needham and Simister. The Thunder went on a 16-5 run to take its biggest lead of the game, but to the home crowd's delight, Hurricane came right back, scoring the next six points to take a 52-51 lead with just 1:35 remaining.
Needham gave the Thunder the lead right back, only to see Benson Rich hit two clutch free throws with 32 seconds remaining which turned out to be the game-clincher.
Simister missed on two last second attempts, with Gubler coming up with his game-high 12th rebound of the game to seal the victory for the Tigers.
Simister, a slashing guard who was the quickest player on the floor,?paced the Thunder with 14 points, while Tyler Ott scored 11 of his 13 in the second half, showing the skills that have already earned him a scholarship to UC Davis. Jason Beckstrand added 12.