GILLETTE — That’s not how it was supposed to go, but sometimes that’s just how it goes.
The Sheridan Broncs basketball team’s rebuilding season came to a close Thursday night in Gillette at the 4A East Regional Tournament after a 70-57 loss to the Cheyenne South Bison. It was the Broncs third game against the Bison this season, and having beaten them twice before, this time the Bison had the upper hand almost throughout.
Cheyenne South reaches the state tournament for the first time in school history, and Sheridan finishes the season with a 9-14 overall record.
Sheridan never led or even held a tie after a 3-0 advantage from Dylan Daniels on the first made shot of the game. Daniels finished with 16 points to lead the Broncs, as he did all year from the point, but the Broncs’ core philosophies under first-year head coach Gale Smith didn’t hold up Thursday night.
“It’s disappointing,” Smith said. “I’m going to have to look at what we’re doing, make sure we get back to concentrating on defense and rebounding,” he said, reiterating something he preached to his team from day one.
“Our top three priorities in this program are defense, rebounding and toughness. We have to continue to work on defensive principles, getting tougher – and that’s an attitude. I think sometimes our team concentrates too much on the offensive side of things. When we shoot well, we play well, and when we don’t we don’t defend.”
Sheridan trailed by nine points, 20-11, after the first quarter as South scored easily inside and hit two 3-pointers to build a lead. A common theme of the game developed in the second quarter as the Broncs closed within two points, but were unable to tie as two turnovers turned into five points for South and the lead regrew.
Bronc senior Jackson Craft fights for a ball in the first half of Sheridan’s season-ending loss to Cheyenne South Thursday night at the 4A East Regional Tournament at Campbell County High School.
In the second half it was more of the same as South’s Isaiah Sims, who finished with a game-high 21 points, had his way on the glass. Sheridan twice narrowed the lead to two points in the third, this time with help from a seven-point quarter from Judson White. Reed Ritterbusch scored four points and Daniels added two to end the quarter with the score 47-45.
Immediately in the fourth South seemed to put an end to the Broncs hopes of a comeback. Two more Bronc turnovers became five more points for South. As the Broncs applied full-court pressure defense, South guards gashed lanes going for layups, twice fouled in the process as Sheridan wouldn’t get within 10 points after the three-minute mark.
White scored 13 in the game and Ritterbusch finished with 12.
It was a frustrating end for Sheridan who closed its 2013 campaign with a blowout loss to Gillette at home then missing the state tournament a week later. But for a team with just three seniors that entered the year with minimal varsity experience, Smith, moving into his second year, is confident they are headed in the right direction.
“We want our kids competing in other sports; want our kids in the weight room getting bigger,” he said. “It’s frustrating. This is a character builder. It’s tough for our seniors to go out on a tough note, but I think this is going to drive them as young men in the future. It’s going to drive our sophomores and juniors to be better basketball players and a better basketball team. No this isn’t any fun, but the same thing happened to me as a senior, and now, I don’t let things happen to me, I make things happen and that’s what we talked about after the game.”
The Broncs lose seniors Spencer Welch, Anthony Newlon and Jackson Craft, but will return a wealth of varsity players including offensive leaders Ritterbusch and Daniels. In all, nine out of 12 players on varsity, who earned valuable experience during this, a rebuilding season in 2012-13.
“We’ve got a great freshman crop coming in,” Smith concluded. “I like where we’re going, but we’ve also got to concentrate on defense, rebounding and toughness, because a year older doesn’t automatically mean a year better.”