Jason Johnson goes up for two with Tre Burton helping to create space.
The Green River boys basketball team had to take a short detour on their way to the 1A state tournament by way of Monticello on Feb. 26 as they needed to take care of some unfinished business. No, they didn't need to see the Monticello Buckaroos for the third time, they needed to see the Whitehorse Raiders and squash any doubt that the Pirates could handle the Raiders on a neutral court - and handle them they did.
Jake Corrigan, Justin Johnson and Jason Johnson combined for 65 of the Pirates 78 points as they never really ran away with the score but they gradually each quarter scored a few more points than the Raiders and at the end had a few extra points to spare - points they would surely need as they entered tournament play; for as fate would have it, the Green River Pirates faced long time basketball foe the Tabiona Tigers on day one.
The Tabby, Green River game started out with the Tigers taking a five point lead at the end of the first quarter but the big story was the two points the Tigers scored in the second quarter - yep, the Pirates held Tabby to only two points to the Pirates nine. The third quarter was tight as was the fourth and each team wasn't living up to the pre tournament billing they had amassed during the season. The Pirates knew that the Tigers always play better in tournament play and the Pirates know this isn't their strength. The Pirates relied on the Johnson brothers to do the lions share of the scoring, and this they did, but each was 10 points or better off of their season average. The boys were there and they frustrated the Tigers but not quite enough. Maybe it was the 80 percent free throw shooting for the Tigers to the 50 percent free throw shooting for the Pirates that made the difference - maybe; or maybe it was ...? The Pirates just didn't take care of business and if they were going to make it to Saturday then they had better settle down and focus on the task at hand - Dugway.
Dugway was a game that had to be played in order to get to Thursday. The Pirates didn't overlook the Dugway Mustangs as Jake Corrigan buried four 'tre balls', but there wasn't much to the game except for the horrendous free throw shooting of the Pirates. If they were going to advance in the tournament they needed to get their act together or pack up and head for home.
On Thursday the Pirates met the Duchesne Eagles who during the 2008 - 2009 1A state tournament gave the Pirates their first loss on the first day so a little pay back was in store for this game - but it took a ton of defensive effort and a soft touch on the offensive end to make it happen.
Justin Johnson and Jason Johnson settled in early as Holden Marshall, Tre Burton and Adrian Escalante fed it inside. The second half was pretty much a mirror of the first half as the Pirates shot 42 percent from the field but went a scorching 19 for 23 from the free throw line. Jake Corrigan went two for two, Adam Steuer went one for two, Holden Marshall went three for five, Justin Johnson went five for six, but it was Jason Johnson who went eight for eight from the line- big time for a guy who just a few games earlier was struggling.
Though the offensive was back on track, it was the Pirate defense that stepped up to the plate during this game and held the Eagles to 28 percent shooting as they made only 17 of 61 field goal attempts. Coach Hughes told the boys before the game that it was win or go home and I guess the boys had one more game in them as they pulled off a 56 to 50 win.
On the last day of the tournament the Green River Pirates faced a tough, region 20 team in the Piute Thunderbirds. This is why, as a player, you want to get to play on Saturday and this is why fans look forward to watching games on Saturday; to witness hard fought, nose to the grind stone, battle it on the hard wood, gutsy basketball played by kids who leave nothing behind put it all on the line, this was Saturday's game.
From the opening tip off through the first quarter where with 5.5 seconds remaining Justin Johnson lobbed the ball over the Thunderbird defenders to his older brother Jason who banked it off the glass to tie the score. Wouldn't you love to be a fly buzzing around the Thunderbird huddle to hear what the coach was telling his players - these Pirates came to play and playing they are.
The second quarter was pretty much like the first quarter where the Pirates went to their bread and butter and the Thunderbirds were letting them have it. The ball was pounded down low and if that didn't work it was kicked back for an outside shot that if it didn't go in the hoop, Jason Johnson had his way with the paint and gathered up the loose ball and put it back in. Jason Johnson went to the line four times in the first half and he made seven of eight shots. Younger brother Justin was just warming up with four first half points.
In the second half, Justin went to work scoring 12 of his 16 points and Jason went back to doing what he does best, battle hard in the paint - and battle he did.
Jason ended the game with 32 points and Justin added 16 with Adrian Escalante, Holden Marshall and Jake Corrigan each adding to the final score but it isn't always the total points scored by a player that makes the difference.
Each player that saw court time hustled, broke the Thunderbird press, set a screen, found the seam for the ball to pass through or frustrated the defense to create turnovers. This is how ball games are won - team play - and team play was what was on the court this final game.
With 33 seconds on the clock and the Pirates down by four, Justin Johnson went coast to coast and softly put the ball off the glass as he was hit in the body and sent to the line. Justin made the 'and one' bringing the game to within one but the Pirates couldn't get a quick steal and had to foul. Good for the guys in blue and bad for the Pirates, they made all of their free throws in the waning seconds of the game.
The Pirates stepped to the plate and delivered. They were 91 percent from the line and made 25 field goals but just couldn't get over the top.