Sailors cage Cougars, make state playoffs

Mapleton boys’ basketball made history on Saturday

Mapleton d Crow: 56-30

Feb. 26, 2020 — Mapleton boys’ basketball made history on Saturday, dominating Crow in league playoffs to make its first trip to state playoffs in a decade. Before the game started, coach Eric Wolgamott explained the magnitude of the moment to his players.

“They have a chance to do something special this year,” he said. “I don’t remember the last time both the football and boys’ basketball teams made state playoffs in the same year. I told them they have a chance to do that this year. It could be a historic day in Mapleton sports history.”

Wolgamott also reminded them to focus on the basics and don’t let the pressure get to them.

“Realize what’s at stake, but at the same time play how you usually play,” he told the team. “The past doesn’t matter — it doesn’t define who you are. I told them, ‘Go make your history.’ And they went out and they did.”

Nate Neece had the first two baskets of the game, but the Sailors were nervous coming out of the gate. Down 5-4 at one point, it appeared the Sailors were in for a rough night.

“That’s understandable,” Wolgamott said. “When you play in big games, being nervous comes with the territory. The first couple minutes, they made a few mistakes they usually don’t make, like dropping passes or letting the ball go through their hands.”

Crow was feeling the pressure as well, making many of the same mistakes. The question became who would settle down first. Wolgamott, along with assistant coach Ryan Barrows, calmed the Sailors’ nerves.

“I just told them enjoy it and don’t stress. Go out there, play basketball and have fun.”

The Sailors were going for a knockout punch in the first quarter, but it wasn’t going to happen. Instead, Mapleton had to play smart. On defense, the goal was to lock down Crow’s best players, a task that fell to JJ Neece and Justyce Wierichs.

“JJ did a really good job making it difficult for him. He still got his points, but it was not easy. JJ was in his face all quarter long,” Wolgamott said.

Unfortunately, he also picked up two fouls in the first quarter.

“But I left him in the game and told him he had to play smarter, don’t be as aggressive but still be difficult. He was able to do that, getting out of the half with only two fouls,” Wolgamott said.

As for offense, Mapleton started passing solidly and utilizing the pick-and-roll, scoring in the paint.

“That alone helps calm the nerves,” Wolgamott said. “We were able to settle down and start playing how we usually play.”

The first quarter ended with Mapleton in the lead, 11-7. It was a lead they would hold on to for the rest of the game.

“We kind of continued the same philosophy, which is basically wear them down, execute and score in transition whenever you can. If you don’t get it right away, don’t force it,” Wolgamott said. “Isolate and let our point guard and post play 2-on-2 games with their players. We did well taking that route.”

Finishing the half 22-12, Mapleton had the momentum. But in the locker room, Wolgamott told the team not to celebrate.

“We have to keep going forward and pushing it even harder,” he said. “We’re not going to rest and be content with a 10-point lead because they’ve got some players on that team that can score quickly. Their point guard is a threat from the outside, and if he gets a few 3-pointers, then that could get them going — So, we had to come out and earn the second half.”

The Sailors scored in the first few seconds of the third. Crow battled back, getting down to an 8-point deficit at home point, but Mapleton wasn’t going to let it grow.

“They wanted this game and didn’t want to leave it in the hands of a bad call or weird bounce,” Wolgamott said. “They wanted to go out there, earn in the third, and coast the rest of the way.” At the end of the third, the Sailors held a 36-21 lead.

From there, the game was far from a nailbiter as the Sailors continued with solid defense, forcing Crow to begin fouling. Wierichs was 12-for-15 from the foul line, most of which came in the fourth period.

Mapleton held Crow scoreless for nearly seven minutes of the quarter, playing loose but disciplined, listening and executing the game plan.

“The last couple of minutes, it was more of a ‘Wow, this is happening’ on the court,” Wolgamott said. “The players were able to enjoy themselves, too. We were able to get everyone in the game. It was more of a countdown and waiting for the final buzzer for it to actually become official. That whole second half of the fourth quarter was a lot of fun.”

In the locker room after the final buzzer, Wolgamott reminded the players how far they had come.

“From November and December, the practices where it felt like it just dragged on,” Wolgamott said. Now, there are 24 teams left in the state out of 73. We haven’t been one of those teams still on the court during March in at least 10 years. I let them know how proud I was of them.”

Throughout the whole season, Wolgamott said the players believed in themselves and worked through difficult times.

“As long as you stick together and don’t point fingers, and take responsibility as a team, it’s usually going to turn out more good than bad,” Wolgamott said. “That’s what happened, and all the credit goes to the players. They’re the ones out there busting their butts, running, sprinting, diving on the ground for the ball — They were the ones that made it happen.”

And Wolgamott, along with assistant coach Ryan Barrows, couldn’t be prouder.

“To see how happy they were and how seriously they took it, and the work they put into it, it was earned, 100 percent. It wasn’t given to them,” Wolgamott said. “They played the way they needed to play.  It was a proud parent moment, being happy for what they accomplished and seeing the look on their faces and how much joy it brought them. It really made me proud to be their coach.”

Weirchs led the Sailors against Crow with 29 points.

“The whole game he played at his pace. He was able to not let the defense dictate or speed him up,” Wolgamott said. “When he saw an opening, he took the fast-break opportunity. He attacked, but he was smart about it and he didn’t force it. He was the type of point guard you need in a big game like that.”

JJ Neece scored 12 points and had the pass of the year in the fourth quarter to his brother, Nate.

“It was an overhead pass from the top of the 3-point arch all the way down to the opposite block,” Wolgamott said. “The film is really impressive. It was the pass of the year, and for him to pass it to his brother was pretty special.”

Nate Neece was on the heels of his brother, scoring 10.

“Mentally he’s been locked in with a good attitude,” Wolgamott said. “Just taking what the defense is giving him and not forcing it. Physically, just really playing his best basketball.”

Tonight (Feb. 26), Mapleton will play in the state playoffs, traveling to Days Creek. Wolgamott, who went to the 1A state basketball playoffs as Sailor in 2004, said the biggest obstacle for the team will be mental.

“The physical part of it, they’re going to be in shape, they’re going to know the plays,” he said. “But mentally, you’ve got to be ready for it from the very beginning.”

A win over No. 16-ranked Days Creek won’t come easy, Wolgamott admitted.

“As long as we give it 110 percent, there will be no regrets out there. If they do that, it’ll be a fun Wednesday regardless of the outcome,” said Wolgamott.

Tipoff for tonight’s game is set for 6 p.m., with live coverage from KCST 106.9 FM beginning at 5:45 p.m.


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