CASTLE DALE — Emery came out with something to prove on Friday in a home region basketball game against one of the best teams in the state, Wasatch Academy. It was Senior Night and the last home game for the Spartan seniors, Bailey Faimalo, Drexler Tanner, Gavin McDermott and McKlane Allred. Emery battled all game but eventually fell 78-54 to the Tigers, a final score that poorly represents how close the game really was.
Faimalo had nine points and 10 assists and McDermott scored 16 and pulled down eight rebounds in the loss. Cody John and Koby McEwen went off for Wasatch Academy, combining for 56 of the Tigers' 78 points.
“It was an emotional game, and I’m glad we went out with a fight,” said McDermott. “There’s no school I’d rather be playing for, and I just wanted to play the hardest I could and not regret anything leaving as a senior.” Tanner said, “For as bad as any loss tastes, we gave what we had. Before the game, we just didn’t want any regrets, and we accomplished that goal.”
The game opened with a Dillon Wilstead steal and layup to put the Spartans ahead on the scoreboard, something that never happened when these two teams faced each other earlier in Mount Pleasant, and made the home fans that packed the Spartan Center go wild. The student section and the rest of the home fans provided the Spartans with energy and intensity all game in the highest-attended Emery home game so far this season.
Tanner said, “We could really feel the support from the whole county. It was an incredible feeling to see everybody backing you up.” The intense defense and layup by the Spartans proved to be more of a trend for the rest of the game rather than a fluke. Emery played the Tigers tough throughout the rest of the quarter, forcing Wasatch Academy into difficult shots and getting some easy baskets that put the Spartans up 18-16 after the first quarter. No team in the state had led Wasatch Academy at the end of any quarter before, including 4A schools Orem and Timpview, until Emery.
In the second quarter, the Spartan defense remained stout and Emery was able to take advantage of a press by the Tigers as they jumped out to a five-point lead early. It was Emery’s biggest lead of the game. Wasatch Academy turned up its defensive intensity and forced turnovers that led to easy layups. The Tigers went on a 23-8 run to end the half and take a 10-point lead into halftime 39-29.
Emery continued to play with heart in the second half and was able to cut the Wasatch Academy lead to just four, thanks to great inside play by Spartan senior bigs McDermott and Tanner. In another extremely strong quarter, Emery was able to outscore the Tigers once again but still trailed 54-45.
Wasatch Academy coach Geno Morgan showed how much of an impact the tough hard-nose play by Emery was making by putting his team in a delay, prompting a chorus of boos from the crowd. Faimalo was able to steal the ball from John during the delay and set up a layup to Wilstead on the other end. For the first time since journeying out of the state to national tournaments, the Tigers were challenged. Wasatch Academy was able to keep a small cushion and scored points in garbage minutes to widen the gap in the final score as it held on to win.
The Spartans were greeted with a standing ovation from the fans as they walked off the court. Everyone there understood how hard Emery played and much effort was expended on the floor. “It was the most fun game I’ve ever played in,” said Faimalo. “I played the hardest I ever have and laid it all on the line, playing loose and fast.”
Throughout the game, Emery did something that few teams in Utah have been able to do when playing Wasatch Academy. It competed. “We proved they’re beatable by outscoring them in the first and third quarters. We need to handle the ball better in our future games,” said Faimalo.
Allred said, “It meant a lot that we could go out and compete with a team like that.” Head coach Todd Jeffs said, “We played hard and competed well. I was proud of our effort. Some costly turnovers hurt us. I hope we get one more crack at them.”
Emery plays Grand in Moab next Tuesday for second in Region 15 and then will head to Orem High School for the play-in game in the state tournament. “We can do something special if we get on a run these next few weeks,” said McDermott.
The Spartans lost, but Emery proved something huge in Friday’s game. “We showed that Wasatch Academy is just a basketball team and they’re human,” said McDermott. Can a small school comprised of local players take down the tuition-funded private school with players from all over the country in the state tournament? Maybe.