Grand County High School senior Christian Wilson drives into a Union player during the Red Devils' nail-biting season opener on Tuesday, Nov. 22. [Photo by Murice D. Miller / Moab Sun News]

The Grand County Red Devil boys basketball team defeated Union in a nail-biter in their season opener 46-44 in Moab on Tuesday, Nov. 22.

After leading for most of the second and third quarters, the Red Devils found themselves trailing the Cougars 44-43 late in the game, when sophomore Kevin Park drained his fourth 3-pointer of the game with 10.4 seconds remaining to give Grand the victory. Park scored a game-high 14 points off the bench for the Red Devils.

“He’s clutch – he’s a shooter,” Grand boys basketball coach Scott Horton said of Park’s performance. Park also hit a buzzer-beater to give Grand a 17-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.

The Red Devils stumbled out of the blocks to begin the game, finding themselves down 5-0 early on, but a pair of free throws from junior Brayden Schultz and a 3-pointer from junior Alec Williams tied the score. The Cougars hit a pair of 3-pointers to surge ahead 11-5, then Park’s first trey of the game, followed by a 3-point play from senior Christian Wilson saw the score tied again. Grand got its first lead late in the first quarter at 15-13 on a bucket from senior Kenyon Birdwell.

The Red Devils, despite getting themselves into foul trouble, steadily added to their lead in the second quarter, going into the locker rooms with a 28-21 lead. Schultz, Williams and junior Masen Ward each had three fouls before halftime.

Union came storming out of intermission, going on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 30-30 after Grand senior Taylor Horton hit a bucket to begin the third quarter. Park hit another 3-pointer to stop the bleeding and put the Red Devils back in front 33-30 heading into the final frame.

The Cougars began the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer of their own to tie the game. Grand and Union then traded short runs before Union took its first lead since late in the first quarter at 41-40. After Union extended its lead to 43-40, Williams hit a 3-pointer to tie the game. Union’s Austin Jaramillo gave the Cougars a 44-43 lead by hitting one of two free throw attempts after Williams committed his fourth foul in the ensuing possession.

Horton praised the Red Devils’ unity as a reason this one did not slip away as it routinely had in recent incarnations of the team.

“They stick together,” he said. “We’ve said from the beginning that we’re a family. We trust one another.”

With foul trouble come free throws, of which Union had a distinct advantage in attempts, although the Cougars didn’t capitalize to a great degree. Grand hit 5-of-8 free throws in the game and did not attempt a free throw in the second half, while Union connected on 8-of-19 from the stripe, suffering a 0-for-5 mark in the third quarter alone.

Horton said foul trouble didn’t hurt Grand as it had in the past because the Red Devils have a much deeper bench in 2016.

“We’re a guard-dominant team,” he said. “I don’t worry too much if they get in foul trouble because we’ve got two more guys behind ’em who can step right in.”

The Cougars are coached by 2007 Grand County alumnus Gordon Garrett, who starred for the Red Devils in football, basketball and track and field before going on to play football at Southern Utah University. Garrett is in his second year as Union’s head coach. His younger sister, Red Devil sophomore Annabelle Garrett, sang the national anthem prior to the game.

Gordon Garrett coached the Cougars to the Region 10 title in his first year before they were ousted in the first round of the playoffs. He said it was a bittersweet return to his old stomping grounds.

“It’s definitely more bitter than sweet,” he said.

Garrett admitted it was no coincidence that the Cougars were playing in Moab right before Thanksgiving.

“I called coach Horton and said ‘let’s play,’ and we made it happen,” Gordon Garrett said.

The night was made more emotional, Gordon Garrett said, by the fact that his high school coach, Brook Shumway, was running the scoreboard, bringing back thoughts and memories of how he became who he is today. Asked of a hypothetical return to Grand County, either as an opponent or as a Red Devil coach, he said, “We’ll definitely play these guys again, but as far as me returning to be a coach in Moab, only time will tell.”

The Red Devils next play on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2 and 3, at the Duchesne Invitational. Grand boys basketball’s next home game is on Friday, Jan. 6, 2017, against North Sevier.