By: Shawn O’Brate
FORT WASHAKIE – On Friday night, in the midst of a snowstorm and subsequent freeze, one of the most anticipated matchups in Wyoming high school basketball occurred on a somewhat-neutral site.
The Wyoming Indian Chiefs and Lady Chiefs traveled right down the road to take on their in-county rivals, St. Stephens, and attempt to sweep the Eagles and Lady Eagles for the 2022-23 regular season.
It all started with the girls first, taking the court at Fort Washakie High School in their nice, new stadium which allowed for more fans to take hold and scream their lungs out for their respective teams.
The Lady Chiefs (13-3, 3-0), who beat the Lady Eagles (1-9, 0-3) on one of the last days of the 2022 calendar year, started the game down 2-0 to their rivals but would soon rectify that and not let the Lady Eagles regain the lead for the entire game. Coach Aleta Moss’ girls would end the first quarter on a 14-2 run and continue that momentum throughout the whole game.
At halftime it was 37-8 in favor of the #1 team in 2A girls’ basketball. Following halftime the Lady Eagles would have their best quarter of the game, scoring 12 points, but Wyoming Indian would put up 26 on them in the same eight minutes.
Not much would change in the fourth-and-final quarter as the Lady Chiefs simply dominated like they have to pretty much every team they’ve faced over the course of Coach Moss’ tenure in Ethete. The Lady Chiefs would win 75-29 for their second win over their rivals in the last month alone.
Even though these two teams have had years and years of history on the court, it didn’t seem like that big of a win for the girls of Wyoming Indian, considering their mindset and their recent coach of the year winner, Coach Moss.
“Our goal is to try to win every game. We don’t really pick out a particular game and try harder to beat someone. Our goal is to win our conference and to make it to state and to play in the championship … I don’t really pick out games and say ‘this is a game we have to win,’” Coach Moss said about the game.
With that game done by halftime, the boys of St. Stephens (4-7, 1-2) looked for revenge after losing by 17 points back on December 30. The only thing standing in their way was a well-versed Wyoming Indian Chiefs (8-7, 3-0) team that had started to pick up steam heading into the rivalry matchup.
The Eagles got off to a hot start with some nice passes inside the paint, leading to easy two point scores to take an early 20-11 lead at the end of the first eight minutes of play.
Chiefs’ chants and Eagles’ chants rocked the stadium, shaking the bleachers and bringing an intensity to the air that one could cut with a knife. All of which made for a supremely fun, loud and tense second quarter that saw Wyoming Indian cut the lead to two by the time halftime rolled around.
The game was back-and-forth for the rest of the 16 minutes of play. Coast-to-coast plays led to easy points, bodies went flying on the floor which led to multiple free throw opportunities and two of the Eagles’ leading players fouled out with six seconds to go, but the stadium never wavered or lost any fans even down to the final minutes.
In those final minutes the Chiefs would find themselves down by as much as eight with 180 seconds left. The Chiefs continued to find the free throw line which helped them cut the lead continually, but St. Stephens wasn’t going to just lay down and let their rivals sweep them this season.
With 80 seconds left in the game senior Brandon Coffee hit a three from the left corner of the key, bringing the score to within two, 65-63, and the cheers of both fans could be felt throughout the reservation, spanning far beyond just Fort Washakie’s stadium.
St. Stephens would miss their free throws right out of the following timeout but the Chiefs would lose the ball, giving it back to the Eagles, who would then be fouled for Wyoming Indian to have a chance. This time the Eagles would not miss their free throws, sending the game to a 67-63 score with under 50 seconds left.
Multiple shots went up for the Chiefs with amazing rebounding skills leading to more opportunities, eventually ending with senior Kalijah St. Clair at the charity strip where he would make it a three-point game with one-of-two free throws made.
Quickly the Chiefs fouled St. Stephens, leading to just one of the attempts finding the bottom of the net, making it a four-point game with 27 seconds left. But, the Chiefs would not get the ball back right away as the Eagles rebounded the missed free throw which they chose to bring out to the top of the key where they would miss a three-pointer.
The game was squarely on the shoulders of whomever was at the free throw line as Wyoming Indian would hit one more, making it 68-65 in favor of St. Stephens before the Eagles made a layup with under 12 seconds left.
Then, miraculously, the Chiefs would find a prayer left as Jason Slow Bear connected on a three-pointer from the corner before a smartly-timed timeout would leave Wyoming Indian with a two-point deficit and 1.5 seconds to do something about it. All they had to do was steal the inbound pass and lay the ball in to go to overtime…
Instead, the Chiefs would have to foul St. Stephens with 0.3 seconds left, essentially icing it for the Eagles.
In the end, the Eagles would get their revenge, something that new Athletic Director Fletcher Turcato guaranteed they would do back in December, by a score of 71-68.
“I don’t know if I should’ve said that,” Turcato said with a laugh after the victory. “I just wanted to be positive … With all the stuff that happened in the past, rebuilding the school and building it around basketball was really the way to go … The future is great. I’m really, really happy and I don’t know what else to say other than this is really a huge positive for St. Stephens.”
Eagles’ Head Coach Mike Jenkins shared in Turcato’s spirited celebration, but he gave all the props to the players on the court for their intensity and their hard work throughout the game after weeks of waiting for revenge.
“They’ve waited for this game for a long time. These guys wanted to win this round and they’re the top of the league, that was a plus for us,” Coach Jenkins said. “I told them to just keep it up and make them foul you, and we just got the game by utilizing the pressure and utilizing the power of dribbling the basketball to the hoop.”
As for Wyoming Indian, the boys’ team still sits at the top of the 2A Southwest quadrant at 8-8, but this loss was a tough one to swallow for the team that didn’t have key players foul out and didn’t have the idea of losing even pop into their minds until late in the game.
“We lost confidence,” Chiefs’ Head Coach Craig Ferris said after the game. “I felt like we were playing not to lose and the more shots we missed, the more confidence we lost.”
Coach Ferris went on to say that, even despite losing a few players to injury late in the game, the team has to “get better at the little things” if they want to have a chance at a title this year.
“We got to get better at the offensive boards, and the defensive boards, giving ourselves those second chances while also taking away their second chances,” Coach Ferris continued. “Their size really hurt us today and we’ve got about two or three more weeks to figure out how we’re going to get that fixed because everyone we play is going to have some size.”
Both teams face off against another in-county team, Shoshoni, with both games being held at the Wranglers’ gymnasium. Wyoming Indian will travel there first, playing the Wranglers (7-6, 0-3) and Lady Wranglers (8-7, 1-2) on Thursday night at 5:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (both can be viewed on WyoToday’s YouTube page and heard on 99.1 KWYW). The next day the Eagles and Lady Eagles travel down the road to Shoshoni to take on the same teams at the same times.