SUBLETTE COUNTY – The Puncher girls’ basketball team proved its tenacity and ability to gel as a team during a busy week featuring three games against larger, non-conference opponents.
Hitting the court against 4A team Jackson on Wednesday, Jan. 5, the Punchers fought a neck-in-neck physical game that came down to the wire. Jackson took advantage of the charity to take the win, 36-34.
Undaunted, the Big Piney girls beat 3A team Kemmerer, 43-40, in the first round of the Pinedale Winter Classic Tournament on Saturday, Jan. 9.
That afternoon, Big Piney challenged 3A powerhouse Lyman. The Punchers put up a fight in the first and third quarters, but Lyman took control in the second half for the win, 49-35.
Jackson started the match ahead in the first quarter, 14-8. Refusing to throw in the towel, the Punchers turned the tables and shot in 10 points while holding their opponent to a single 2-pointer in the second quarter.
Jakobi Hibbert, Cassidy Espenscheid, Ryker Goodman and junior Ceci Sambrano each set the pace on the scoreboard.
Big Piney held the lead at halftime, 18-16.
The Punchers widened the margin in the third quarter, tossing in 10 points to six from Jackson, including a 6-point run by Hanna Hansen.
In the final quarter, Jackson drew several fouls and pulled ahead at the last minute.
Goodman and Hansen led scoring with nine points each. Espenscheid tossed in seven points, with Hibbert shooting five points and Sambrano four.
Big Piney turned the tables against the Lady Rangers in another nail biter that came down several points, this time in the Punchers’ favor.
“This win felt like a milepost,” said Head Coach Brian Espenscheid. “We lost a close game to Kemmerer last year and earlier this year. Goodman played a whale of a game with rebounds. Hibbert’s defense was stellar. Espenscheid came through with some pretty good baskets and Hansen had a heck of a game.”
Big Piney dominated the first quarter, scoring 11 points to eight from Kemmerer. Holding the lead through the second quarter, the Punchers outscored the Lady Rangers, 12-9. Hansen stepped up the intensity and dropped in four 2-pointers.
Halftime found Big Piney ahead, 23-17.
Puncher defense held Kemmerer to five points while Big Piney’s offense scored 11 points in the third quarter. Kemmerer upped the ante in the final quarter, tossing in 17 points to nine from Big Piney, but the Punchers stayed ahead with the surplus they built in the first three quarters.
The team finished with a nice point spread including seven players. Espenscheid tossed in 11 points, including two 3-pointers. Hansen added 10 points to the tally.
Goodman scored eight points and Hibbert shot in seven. Junior Lena Hatch contributed three points and Sambrano and junior Sierra Keiter both dropped in two points.
The final round in the Pinedale Winter Classic pitted Big Piney against the 2020 3A Regional runner-up, Lyman. The Punchers kept the game competitive and outscored the Eagles in the first and third quarters.
“We played really well in the first quarter and dang near tied Lyman if it wasn’t for some free throws,” Coach Espenscheid said. “As tired as everyone was, we fought back and got the game close again. Hannah Runyan came in and did well getting thrown into the action.”
Big Piney shot in 13 points while the Eagles pulled off 11 in the first quarter. Espenscheid, Goodman, Hibbert, Hatch and Runyan each contributed to the scoreboard.
The Eagles dominated the second quarter, holding Big Piney to two points while shooting in 13 points. The Eagles edged ahead by halftime, 24-15.
Refusing to call the game quits, Big Piney shot in another 13-point volley and held Lyman to 11 points in the third quarter. Espenscheid went on a 7-point scoring streak, including a deep 3-pointer.
The Eagles’ offense booted back up in the fourth quarter, and outscored Big Piney, 14-7.
Seven Punchers added to the point tally against Lyman. Espenscheid scored 11 points and Hibbert tossed in eight. Sambrano, Runyan and junior Autumn Wright each shot in four points. Goodman and Hatch rounded out the tally, both adding two points.