CHEYENNE – One play changed it all.
Cheyenne East held a four-point lead over Cheyenne Central when East junior Xavier McCord was whistled for a foul. A second later, he received a technical foul. Then another technical, and he was ejected.
The sequence of events happened quickly, but for East senior Erik Oliver, it was all the fire he needed to put the game away.
Oliver rallied his teammates en route to a 67-54 victory over Central in front of an electric crowd at Storey Gym.
“I don’t feel like I was aggressive most of the game, and then once (McCord) got tossed, it kind of just clicked,” said Oliver, who finished with a team-high 22 points.
Oliver tied the game at 12-12 with a 3-pointer late in the first quarter and handed his team an 18-16 lead with a short jumper midway through the second. Then, with 1 minute, 12 seconds remaining in the half, Oliver powered his way through the lane and to the rim for a 31-22 lead.
East (14-1 overall, 3-0 Class 4A Southeast Quadrant) led 31-25 at the break.
The No. 2-ranked Thunder-birds led throughout the third quarter, though the Indians never went away. A drive by sophomore big man Lawson Lovering cut the deficit to 35-29 before senior teammate Thomas Burke made it 35-31. Lovering finished with a game-high 23 points.
“Lovering’s a great player,” first-year East coach Rusty Horsley said.
“He is tough to stop, and he is so long. He is a heck of a player. Aiden Colgan really stepped up and did a great job on him where he was bodying him the whole time and trying to work him.”
The fourth-ranked Indians (10-3, 2-1) hadn’t led since the first quarter, but they threatened to in the fourth.
A drive to the rim by Central senior Blaine Lyman trimmed the deficit to 52-48.
Then things started to heat up.
McCord was whistled for a double technical and subsequently ejected, and the Indians tied it 52-52 with a little more than 5 minutes left in regulation.
East called a timeout. Oliver was in the middle of the huddle, surrounded by his teammates.
“One of our better players is out, and I’ve got to take over,” he said.
“I looked at my teammates and I said, ‘Give me the ball. Let me do what I got to do. Just play off of me. I’m going to make the right play.’”
Oliver made the right play, and then a few more.
His second 3-pointer of the night gave the T-Birds a 55-52 lead. The points were the first of nine in the fourth quarter for Oliver.
East never looked back.
“They’re hard to counter stuff when you know what’s coming,” Central coach Tagg Lain said. “That’s the thing. We knew a lot of the things they did were coming at us, but stopping them is a whole different thing. (Oliver) really decided to ensure that they were going to win that game, and we weren’t able to figure out a way to stop him.
“They made one smart play after another down the stretch. They hit one big shot after another down the stretch. We tried to throw a lot of different things at them, but they had an answer. That’s why a lot of people see them as being the team to beat in the state.”
EAST 67, CENTRAL 54
Cheyenne East….… 12 19 15 21 – 67
Cheyenne Central… 14 11 14 14 – 54
Cheyenne East: X. McCord 2, Muchmore 10, D. McCord 14, Micheli 0, Aumiller 12, Er. Oliver 22, Jackson 0, Rayl 3, Colgan 4.
Cheyenne Central: Macleary 0, Lyman 9, Stampfli 4, Burke 2, Talich 0, Bra. Storebo 9, Weinberger 6, Lovering 23.
Tyler Poslosky is a writer for WyoSports. He can be reached at 307-633-3123 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerPoslosky.