CEDAR CITY — The Wasatch Academy Tigers capped a stellar season with a victory in the 2A boys championship game at Southern Utah University Saturday evening.
The Tigers defeated region foe Gunnison, 57-45, in a game that was much closer than anticipated.
“There’s that old saying: The third time is the charm,” Wasatch Academy coach Geno Morgan said after his team beat the Bulldogs for the third time this year. “I knew that game wasn’t going to be easy.”
The Bulldogs dove into the contest running on the adrenaline from their big victory the night before when Colby Caldwell hit a last-second 3-pointer to defeat Emery. The momentum boosted Gunnison, and took the Tigers by surprise.
“We started off slow. They started off strong,” Morgan continued. “We thought Caldwell was going to be the key, but other guys stepped up for them.”
Gunnison scored the first four points of the game, and hung with the Tigers throughout most of the contest. Wasatch Academy took a 28-19 lead into the halftime locker room, and then the scoring was even the rest of the way.
Caldwell finished with nine points and four assists, but it was Lafe Christensen who led Gunnison in scoring with 10 points and two steals. Senior Braden Harris was a physical presence on the inside for the Bulldogs. He scored six points with seven boards and two assists, and the Bulldogs shot 37.1 percent from the floor and had four 3-pointers.
“We knew they were going to come out tough,” Wasatch Academy senior Garrett Crosby said. “When we played them at their place, they come out tough and we had a good battle.”
The Tigers beat Gunnison by 32 points and nine points earlier in the season, and Morgan noticed a change in the Bulldogs during the 2A title tilt.
“They’ve gotten better over the last eight games,” Morgan said. “They are a good team; I knew they were going to be tough.”
Most of the fans in the arena were cheering for Gunnison to get the upset. Many did not want to see a private school win the championship, and many others accused the Mt. Pleasant-based school of recruiting international players for athletic reasons.
“I’ve never been to France. I’ve never been to England. I’ve never been to China. I don’t know where that comes from,” Morgan said. “These kids want to come to America and Wasatch Academy is one of the top academic schools. And now we’re becoming one of the top athletic schools in Utah.”
He added that the overall team GPA is 3.3, and he says the focus is on preparing students for college.
“These kids grow up quick, and by the time they get ready to go to college, they are prepared,” he said. “They’ve lived in dorms. They’ve been in student centers. They’ve taken college courses. We prepare them for college and life.”
A different player led the Tigers each night of the tournament. In the championship, it was sophomore guard Cody John, who had 19 points and three assists. Freshman Koby McEwan added 13 points, four assists and three steals, while senior Momo Diop reached double digits with 11 points and seven boards.
Deseret News All-Tournament Team MVP Geno Luzcando had seven points, four assists, three steals and five boards in another strong game for the Tigers. Wasatch Academy shot 46.2 percent — both from the floor and from behind the arc — and combined for 15 assists and 10 steals. Overall, Morgan was proud of his team and pleased that his seniors finished as champions.
“We’ve had seven different leading scorers throughout the year. We’ve had multiple people step up when we need them,” he said. “I don’t know who our MVP is. I think it’s the whole team.”
Deseret News 2A Boys All-Tournament Team
MVP — Geno Luzcando, Wasatch Academy
Colby Caldwell, Gunnison
Bailey Faimalo, Emery
Braden Harris, Gunnison
Cody John, Wasatch Academy
Race Parsons, South Sevier
Sarah Thomas is a graduate of the University of Utah and has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org