Punchers win conference cliffhanger

Robert Galbreath photo Junior Reuben Stoutenburg sinks a layup against Kemmerer on Jan. 13. Stoutenburg led the Punchers in scoring against the Rangers with 28 points.

BIG PINEY – The Kemmerer Rangers tied the Jan. 13 game against the Big Piney Punchers boys’ basketball team, 56-56, with 1 minute remaining in regulation at the Puncher Gym.

Big Piney’s first conference victory hung in the balance as junior Reuben Stoutenburg stepped up to the charity stripe for his second free throw. Stoutenburg sent the ball sailing in a perfect trajectory and sunk the shot.

The Punchers captured the lead, 57-56.

Kemmerer answered with a close-range shot.

The final seconds ticked down as Big Piney took possession. Senior Jovany Munoz caught a pass from sophomore Cael Espenscheid. Munoz charged inside the paint and netted a jumper.

Leaping to their feet, hundreds of Big Piney fans roared their approval. The Punchers scored their first regular-season win by a single point, 59-58.

“I thought the boys showed a lot of grit and followed the game plan really well,” said Head Coach Nate Strong. “We missed a few shots we’d like to have made and had some foul trouble, but stuck with it and got the win. I’m proud of the team for continuing to work hard and grow.”

Big Piney handily won the first quarter, 17-9. Munoz jumped out in the opening seconds with a layup. Stoutenburg scored on a fast break and then sunk a layup.

Munoz netted a 3-pointer and made a reverse layup. Munoz, Stoutenburg and sophomore Bill Hibbert each tossed in close-range shots.

The second quarter commenced with Stoutenburg scoring a pair of free throws. Stoutenburg went on to sink a pair of 3-pointers. Sophomore Cole Walton converted an and-1, placing Big Piney ahead, 28-12.

The Rangers recovered and went on a 9-point run, but the Punchers maintained the lead, 28-21, at halftime.

Kemmerer overtook the Punchers early in the third quarter.

Hibbert went on a 4-point run to place Big Piney back in the lead. Sophomore Cael Espenscheid scored a jumper and Stoutenburg netted a layup. Munoz sunk a deep outside shot and Big Piney found itself ahead, 39-32.

Kemmerer edged up before Espenscheid broke through the perimeter to score. Stoutenburg netted two free throws and a close-range shot.

As the third quarter ended, the scoreboard favored Big Piney, 45-40.

The Rangers closed the gap and regained the initiative, 55-51, midway into the final quarter.

Stoutenburg converted an and-1, closing Kemmerer’s lead to a single point. The Rangers scored a free throw and pulled ahead, 56-54.

Drawing a foul, Munoz scored 2 points from the charity stripe, tying the game, 56-56. Stoutenburg made a free throw and Big Piney edged up, 57-56.

The Rangers scored inside the paint and Kemmerer regained the initiative, 58-57.

With seconds to spare in regulation, Munoz netted his game-winning shot.

Stoutenburg led scoring against Kemmerer with a personal and team season high of 28 points. Munoz netted 18 points, Hibbert 6, Espenscheid 4 and Walton 3.

Conference action continues for the Punchers with away games against St. Stephens on Friday, Jan. 20 and Wyoming Indian High School on Saturday, Jan. 21.

“We’re looking forward to another hard week of preparation,” said Coach Strong.