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Kenny Bristow
Wasatch Head Basketball Coach Lonnie Magnusson has done a masterful job at keeping his team focused after a rough start to the season. He has led his Wasps to a second-round playoff game next Thursday at Weber State.

HEBER CITY — During the first half of the 2012-13 season, Wasatch's boys basketball team struggled and struggled.

Since then, however, the Wasps have completely turned things around.

Left for dead at the halfway point of the season, Wasatch has since found a way to instill a level of confidence in its game that opponents dread.

That much was evident Friday night in Heber City.

Playing in front of their home crowd, the Wasps held off a favored Desert Hills team and showed it the door with a gritty 52-46 victory in the opening round of the 3A tournament. The Thunder left the gym much like they arrived. Defeated.

Perhaps it was the long bus ride from Southern Utah. Maybe it was the letdown of having to travel all the way north after having such a successful season. Or maybe the Thunder didn't expect this much out of a Wasatch team that looked lifeless only a few weeks ago.

Watching the Wasps battle on Friday night however, it become apparent that the little guy just wanted to win the fight a bit more. This has become the mantra for Wasatch during the second part of its campaign.

People are starting to believe.

Thing is, there wasn't any reason for them to just over a month ago.

When Christmas break came and the boys basketball team took some much-needed time off, the Wasps were 2-9. Their only wins were against Carbon and Skyline. The defeats usually were by large margins, and if they were competitive in games, they found ways to lose in the fourth quarter. Twice in three games, they went down to the last possession with a chance to win and failed. In a tough game at Maple Mountain they battled through regulation and a first overtime — only to be destroyed in a second extra frame.

But Wasatch's players never quit. According to veteran Wasatch coach Lonnie Magnusson, that was never an option.

“They’ve never thought about giving up,” Magnusson said. “They have only come to work harder, to figure out a way to turn it around."

The second part of the schedule is what matters and the Wasps made it count. They began to collect wins that had been eluding them. Confidence crept back into the locker room. Strategy began to make sense and experience was suddenly their biggest tool in the box.

Now they're in the second round of the playoffs.

“The best part is is that nobody gave us a chance to win this game,” said senior Chris Johnson. “It feels really good right now because nobody really understands how far we’ve come mentally."

Seniors Jake Larson and Cooper Ballstaedt had the same proud reaction after the first-round win. “That’s a good team and we beat them,” Larson said. “No one thought we could except us. It’s awesome.”

Ballstaedt credited junior teammate Jeff Murdock, who led the Wasps with 17 points. “Jeff played just great. He made great decisions from the point and controlled the tempo of the game,” Ballstaedt said. “This wasn’t our best game by far, but we’re finding ways to win.”

Murdock was businesslike in his assessment of the Wasps' victory. “We’re just doing a good job of adapting to what the other team is giving us,” the point guard said. “We’re not getting sucked into the physical type of game a lot of teams try to play against us. Just trying to take advantage of the situation.

“It’s great," he added with a smile. "Nobody’s giving us a chance.”

Kenny Bristow is a contributor to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: [email protected]