Teams from southeastern and central Utah, Colorado’s Western Slope and the Uintah Basin converged upon Moab last weekend for the Thunderbird Winter Shootout, an eighth grade basketball tournament hosted by the Grand County Thunderbirds.
The Feb. 5-6 tournament consisted of 10 teams who each played three games in pool play before a single-elimination tournament – teams were guaranteed before the tournament started to play at least four games.
The Grand County Thunderbirds, coached by Conrad Yanito, were one of the favorites, having not been beaten in tournament play all season. But Yanito said there were some strong teams in the field for the shootout.
“We’ve got some great kids out here,” he said. “There are some really athletic players and the games so far have been tightly contested.”
The Thunderbirds played two games on Friday night, defeating Whitehorse 62-12 and Carbondale 42-28. Against Whitehorse, Kaine Allred and Jayden Dowd each scored 13 points, while seventh-grader Dante Wells scored 12 to lead the T-Birds versus Carbondale.
In addition to Kaine and Jayden, the T-Bird eighth grade team includes Jamison Hawks, Luke Williams, Milo Birdwell, Dylan Schocknmyer and Cayden Tranter. To deepen the bench, Yanito brings up players from the seventh grade team. For this tourney, Chasee Croasmun, Dante Wells and Tyler Lindsay played along with the eighth graders. Fellow T-Bird seventh-graders Rafe Saunders and Tyler Bohannon played fill-in roles for other teams during the Shootout.
The following morning, the T-Birds finished pool play with a 46-28 victory over Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The two teams played again in the first round of the tournament, with the T-Birds again prevailing 52-18.
In the semifinals, Grand got all it could handle in a back-and-forth battle with Montrose, Colorado. The T-Birds trailed most of the game. Several times, they fought back to tie the score or take a slim lead before Montrose would surge back in front. With the game eventually tied 46-46 in the closing seconds, Birdwell was able to hit one of his two free throws with 2 seconds remaining to propel the T-Birds to a 47-46 win and a berth in the finals.
After Emery made quick work on Duchesne in the other semifinal and the Eagles dispatched Montrose in the third-place game, Grand and Emery played for the tournament title.
Right from the opening tip, Emery frustrated grand with the full-court press and flustered the young players into turnovers and poor shots. Grand trailed 26-9 at halftime and the second half wasn’t much better as the T-Birds scored 11 points on only one made field goal and nine free throws, losing 54-20.
“We came into the game knowing Emery would be tough,” Yanito said. “They have a great basketball tradition down there and they got into our heads a little – Emery capitalized on everything we did.”
Yanito said the physical and mental fatigue from the barn-burner in the semifinals may have played a small role in the finals’ drubbing.
“Mentally, we overthought against Emery,” he said. “We were burned out.”
Still, Yanito said he is proud of the T-Birds’ performance in the tournament.
“Second place is almost as good as first place for us,” he said.
Yanito and the rest of the T-Birds thanked players’ parents and other team supporters for a successful tournament as well as the Big Horn Lodge and the Marriott Fairfield Inn for providing accommodations for visiting players and officials.
Thunderbirds finish in second place
“Second place is almost as good as first place for us.”