SHERIDAN — After losing only its second game of the season to Campbell County Friday night, 4A’s No. 1 Sheridan High School boys basketball team tipped off against the No. 4 Thunder Basin Bolts Saturday afternoon at home and honored their four seniors pregame. It was only fitting the senior Broncs led their team to play with maturity and composure down the stretch to improve defensively from Friday’s loss and beat the Bolts 58-52.
“Any time you’re able to get a win like that and then, at the end, have composure to hit a few free throws and seal it,” head coach Jeff Martini said, “That’s something to build on going toward the postseason.”
Rance Beck, Carter Dubberley, Zach Koltiska and Sam Lecholat walked with family members to center court and received small, commemorative gifts from teammates halfway through warm-ups. Though Sheridan picked up its 14th win of the season to improve to 14-2 (4-1 conference) and sent its seniors off their home court with a victory, the Broncs viewed the close victory as just another step toward the postseason and the ultimate goal to end the season with a championship.
“The game kind of got me,” Lecholat said. “But it’s just another basketball game, we just had to go out there and play. Even though it was a big, special occasion, it was just another game.”
Sheridan opened the contest with a 6-0 run, but the Broncs allowed the Bolts to keep the game close by allowing back-to-back 3-point plays in the first half of the first quarter. The early foul trouble coupled with two 3-pointers, characteristic of Thunder Basin’s 4A best 3-point shooting percentage (37.9%), led to a slim 18-16 Broncs lead after eight minutes of play.
Again, Sheridan allowed two 3-pointers to the Bolts in the second quarter but it played more consistently defensively. During the first quarter, a turnover or mismatch led to Thunder Basin points, and the Broncs buckled down to allow only 10 points in the second frame while scoring 14 to extend their lead.
“I thought our kids did a great job playing defense,” Martini said. “... I thought our defense made them have to change their game plan a little bit, and that’s what we were trying to do. Our defense, overall, was pretty good.”
The Broncs grew their lead from 32-26 at halftime to 39-29 with 6:07 left to play in the third quarter, prompting Thunder Basin’s head coach to call a timeout. The Bolts responded after the break, going on a five-minute long 13-0 run to take a 42-39 lead.
Junior Cole Leach finally put Sheridan back on the board with 38 seconds left to play in the third quarter, and Lecholat hit a 3-pointer just before the buzzer sounded to give the Broncs a 44-42 lead to protect heading into the final eight minutes of play.
Throughout the fourth quarter, Sheridan showed its composure offensively even when late 3-pointers from the Bolts made it a 52-50 game. Timeouts marked the final three minutes of play, and as the clock ticked toward the end of the game, junior Frank Sinclair and Lecholat shot free throws to help ice the game.
Thunder Basin managed to take three shots from behind the arc in the waning seconds of the game because Sheridan couldn’t grab the defensive rebound, leaving room for improvement defensively, though the Broncs out-rebounded the Bolts 44-22.
Additionally, Martini said the Broncs will work to limit their turnovers, as they allowed 17 against Thunder Basin and 14 to Campbell County. Sheridan will also attempt to figure out how to prevent their offense from sputtering during stretches — a problem that plagued Sheridan during its loss to the Camels as well.
Lecholat finished the contest with 20 points and 14 rebounds, and fellow seniors Dubberley and Koltiska scored two and six points, respectively.
“I told them before the game, ‘You guys are the biggest part of building our program, and we appreciate everything you guys have done for us,’” Martini said. “They’re awesome kids and great leaders.”
The Broncs travel to Kelly Walsh (2-13, 0-5 conference) to play the Trojans at 7 p.m. Friday in the final game of the regular season.