Adversity is likely to strike any basketball team at some point every season. In Desert Hills’ case, hardships have already struck upon them in non-region play. Nevertheless, the schedule must go on, and challenges certainly await them.
Without team leader Ty Rutledge, the Thunder took on 5A foe Viewmont in the second day of the Red Rock Rumble.
Desert Hills held its own and pushed the defending Region 2 champs more often than not. Unfortunately for the Thunder faithful, crucial plays down the stretch swayed towards the Vikings as the northern visitors eked out a 57-51 win on Friday afternoon at Burns Arena.
“We felt like we had a chance to beat them (Viewmont), but we’re (encouraged) by how we played,” said forward Taylor Houston, who finished with 14 points. “It’s rough to lose, but we’re still coming together as a team. … Right now we have a lot of guys ready to step in and contribute. The one thing about this team is we’re all competitive and want to win.”
Desert Hills saw its four-game winning streak snapped and fell to 7-3 on the season. The Thunder concludes the non-region tournament today against Payson at 5 p.m. This will be their last game until Jan. 4, when they dive fully into the Region 9 schedule.
“We have a goal to improve each practice and game. I look for consistent effort and improved ball security,” said Desert Hills head coach Wade Turley on what he hopes to see in the tourney finale. “The team is starting to trust one another more and therefore playing much more as a unit.”
Viewmont held a slim 24-23 lead at halftime, and it was more of the same in the second half.
Desert Hills briefly trailed as much by seven in the third, but three unanswered baskets — a Houston 3-pointer, Quincy Matthews steal and layup, and Chase Thompson’s (9 points, 3 steals) 3-pointer from the left wing — changed that.
Houston said the Thunder feel they have a pretty balanced spread offensive attack and don’t necessarily need to rely on one guy to carry the bulk of the load.
The impressive run gave the Thunder a 39-38 advantage. Yet the same stretch also marked the last time the defending Region 9 champs would lead.
The Vikings’ (4-5 overall) McKay Richins (14 points, 4 rebounds) converted a left-handed hook shot on the low block to reclaim the lead, 40-39. Desert Hills did manage, however, to keep the deficit within five for the remainder of the game.
The Thunder closed to within 47-45 after Josh Anderson (11 points, 8 rebounds) and Thompson hit four consecutive free throws. The sequence was due to Viewmont’s Michael Steinicke (10 points) committing a foul on Anderson followed by a technical foul on Jarom Tye (10 points). And although Viewmont once again grew its lead, the Thunder attempted one more comeback.
With 1:44 left, Desert Hills’ Matthews hit a pair of free-throws to cut the score to 52-51. But like many other instances in this contest, Viewmont answered on the next possession.
In the game’s biggest play, the Vikings’ McKay Butler (16 points) stood wide-open at the top of the key, waited for the kick-out from the low post, and launched a 3-point dagger, giving his team a 55-51 and all the momentum to secure the win.
Desert Hills said it must continue to make progress while awaiting the return of Rutledge, who is expected to miss four-to-five weeks with an ankle injury.
“We will miss Ty not being on the floor, but he is still using his leadership in a great way. He looks for ways to lift and build his teammates,” Turley said. “Each and every player must step up their game for us to be successful.”