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Braves one win away from 4A Southwest sweep

◆ Star Valley extends winning streak to 11 with victories over Jackson and Evanston.

After an 0-6 start to the season, the Star Valley varsity boys squad has rattled off 11 straight victories and now stand just one more win away from sweeping the 4A Southwest District and claiming the top seed for the Regional tournament which will start on their home court on March 4.

On Friday night the team honored their seniors, Kolter Merritt, Cache Bagley, Brant Nelson, Tristan Kleeman and Zach Johnson as they comprised the starting five against the Jackson Broncs.

Brant Nelson totaled 14 points and also brought in six rebounds and dished out six assists while collecting three steals. Junior Kortlyn Hilton netted nine points.

“We looked a little muddy against Jackson,” stated Head Coach Paul Kabonic. I was hoping not to have to play our main guys 32 minutes but we did.”

Friday’s win set up another clash with the Evanston Red Devils in Uinta County at a venue where the Braves have had their challenges against the home team. With the team perhaps a bit tired from their minutes against the Broncs, Kabonic says that opened up an opportunity.

“We got some good minutes out of Cache and he had a great game,” he said of Cache Bagley’s near double-double against Evanston. Tristan was awesome and Zach was great.”

The Star Valley guards dominated the game with Nelson, Hilton and Kolter Merritt combining for 26 points. Kleeman attacked the middle and hit from the outside as he finished with 14 points. The Devils tried to bully the Braves in the paint with their size but Cache Bagley came off the bench and finished with nine points and ten rebounds in a superior effort. Merritt also fired up the Star Valley contingent with a pair of blocked shots on the Evanston big men.

The win puts Star Valley at (11-6)(5-0) on the season with a chance to go undefeated in the 4A Southwest this Saturday as they travel to Green River to face the Wolves. The Braves have already wrapped up the top seed for the opening round of the Regional tournament, but Kabonic says there are other factors to consider when taking on the Wolves this weekend.

“It’s a little bigger than just a game because the way the format is set,” he said. “For one, we don’t want to have to rebound from a loss [Saturday] so it would be nice to retain momentum. There is kind of some playoff weirdness there so we don’t want to have to get over a hurdle of losing to Green River on Saturday and then play them next Thursday. We want to keep the streak alive if we can.”

The streak now stands at 11 with the Braves becoming a team that is developing a reputation for coming up big as the stakes increase, which could be a bonus as the post-season looms.

“Every game counts now so at least we don’t’ have to jump through that hoop,” Kabonic added. “The way we play it’s very individualized basketball because we’re slashers. I think we play better when guys are looking for the better shot. Our intensity tends to ratchet up on defense. We play more solid when we are the underdog or if we don’t play perfect we know we’re going to lose. Our guys play better in those scenarios.”

• Coverage
SVI Media will have the varsity contest from Sweetwater County with the Aspen Physical Therapy Countdown to Tip-off scheduled to start prior to 4 p.m. Traditional radio coverage will also be provided on Swift 98.7 FM and on the SVI News App.

Jackson Broncs: 31
Star Valley Braves: 44
Name Pts Reb Ast Stl Blk FT
Kolter Merritt 5 5 4 2 1 0/1
Kortlyn Hilton 9 3 1 1 0 n/a
Cache Bagley 2 4 2 2 0 2/2
Brant Nelson 14 6 6 3 0 1/2
Tris. Kleeman 7 5 1 1 0 n/a
Zach Johnson 7 5 0 0 0 n/a
Croix Jenkins 0 1 0 0 0 n/a
Totals 44 29 14 9 1 66%
Jackson 31 28 10 10 1 40%

Star Valley Braves: 57
Evanston Red Devils: 39
Name Pts Reb Ast Stl Blk FT
Kolter Merritt 9 2 5 2 2 2/2
Kortlyn Hilton 7 4 1 1 0 n/a
Cache Bagley 9 10 1 3 0 0/1
Brant Nelson 10 4 3 2 0 6/9
Tate Frome 1 0 0 0 0 1/2
Tris. Kleeman 14 4 2 0 0 3/6
Zach Johnson 7 0 1 1 0 n/a
Dylan Johnson 0 0 0 1 0 n/a
Totals 57 24 13 10 2 60%
Evanston 39 23 8 3 1 42%