I just love my team so much. This is pretty exciting. I’m happy to be here. —Panguitch's Catania Holman
RICHFIELD — There were still three minutes left on the game clock when Catania Holman came off the court for the final time Saturday evening.
As she walked off the floor, the Panguitch junior stopped to give her coach, Curtis Barney, a bear hug. She then hugged every assistant coach, teammate and team manager on her way to the water cooler. She was smiling from ear to ear, knowing her team was minutes from completing the perfect season: 25-0.
“I just love my team so much,” Holman said moments after she and the rest of the Panguitch girls basketball team defeated region foe Bryce Valley, 51-29, in the 1A girls championship game at the Sevier Valley Center. “This is pretty exciting. I’m happy to be here.”
A year ago, the Bobcats lost their first game in the state tournament and left feeling like they had unfinished business. Although young, the team resolved to not relive the same story and spent the summer traveling, playing and conditioning.
When the players reconvened in November, with a roster chock-full of cross-country champions but not a single senior, the game experience gained throughout the offseason was clear. The Bobcats learned to be a run-and-gun team and, with only one exception, used that tactic to win every game by double figures, including two 30-point victories over Bryce Valley.
“Hopefully our experience helped us from last year,” Barney said. “We were really young and ended up losing the first round — and they didn’t want to do that again.”
As expected, Panguitch took an early lead Saturday, scoring the first four points in the first two minutes of the game. The Mustangs responded, attacking the basket to draw fouls and slowing down their offense to force Panguitch to play defense in a half-court set.
Bryce Valley clung to a five-point deficit, 10-5, at the end of the first quarter, but nerves and turnovers doomed the Mustangs in the second period and they were unable to keep Panguitch contained. The Bobcats exploded for a 13-0 run over the first six minutes of the quarter, posting a 23-5 lead.
“We noticed some mismatches with Darri (Frandsen) being a little bigger and more active inside, so we wanted to use that,” Barney said, noting that Frandsen scored 10 of the 13 points during that streak. “We ran a lot of pick-and-rolls for her, isolated her a lot in the low post, get us to the foul line, try to increase that lead a little bit.”
Bryce Valley guard Ashlee Chynoweth knocked down two 3-pointers and Janette Pollock banked in another from the top of the key to provide the Mustangs with some life, pulling them to within 10 points, 25-15, by halftime.
The second half looked similar to the first, complete with Panguitch breaking free for a 14-0 scoring run during the third quarter before the Mustangs hit three 3-pointers as time wound down.
“We knew it was an uphill battle. Obviously, that’s a pretty tough bunch,” said Bryce Valley coach Tyson Brinkerhoff. “Too many turnovers and empty possessions. We got a little tight in this game, probably the tightest we’ve been. But how can you not? You ask freshmen to come out in a state championship game, and I thought they did. I thought they battled.”
Brinkerhoff’s team, which won just three region contests all season, entered the state tournament with the No. 6 seed from a very deep Region 20, which included Panguitch. The Mustangs earned their spot in the championship game with unlikely wins over Region 19 top seed Monticello, Region 20 second seed Piute and Region 18 top seed and two-time defending champion St. Joseph.
“We were playing on house money,” Brinkerhoff said, highlighting the fact that, while the Mustangs wanted to win the championship, they knew making it to the title game was already above and beyond expectations.
”We played our hearts out,” he said. “I just wanted my girls to go battle, and I thought they did most of the time. We’re young, but that’s how you get better: Just come and play.”
After watching their region foe surprise teams all week, the Bobcats were well-aware the Mustangs would once again by upset-minded.
“I got kind of worried, I got nervous, because the last time we played them was quite a while ago and they’ve gotten so much better since we last played them,” Frandsen said.
Her coach added: “That was a big concern that the Cinderella story would really have some energy with it.”
Panguitch diffused that energy by focusing on the defensive end of the floor.
“They fought hard early and it was a fairly tight game,” Barney said. “We wanted to increase our lead. When you resort back to your defense to hold them, eventually your offense will come.”
Frandsen led the Bobcats with 17 points, while Holman finished with seven points and Taylor Bennett added six points. Sophomore guard Whittni Orton scored 12 points for Panguitch along with her solid play on defense and in the open court after creating steals.
“Our team really plays as she plays,” Barney said. “When she’s under control and passes well and she’s so quick and gets her hands on so many passes defensively, I think it just fires the whole team up.”
Chynoweth led all Bryce Valley scorers with 11 points and three 3-pointers while freshman Samantha Chynoweth was a key on defense and on the boards for the Mustangs.
Pollock scored six points on two 3s before fouling out with 3:04 remaining. As the senior walked off the floor, every player in a Panguitch uniform, both on the floor and on the bench, ran over to the Bryce Valley bench to pat her on the back.
“This has been absolutely the best (experience) you could ask for,” Brinkerhoff said. “There’s only one (spot) better, and that would be out there. It has been a great ride.”
Meanwhile, the Bobcats, after accepting the trophy and cutting down the nets, had one more ride to look forward to.
When asked how she was going to celebrate the win, Holman said, “With a bus ride home, singing all the way.”
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Deseret News All Tournament Team
MVP: Whittni Orton, sophomore, Panguitch
Darri Frandsen, junior, Panguitch
Ashlee Chynoweth, junior, Bryce Valley
Samantha Chynoweth, junior, Bryce Valley
Mady White, junior, St. Joseph
Cami Lamborn, senior, Rich
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.