Mar 12, 2017 - By Scott Akanewich, Sports EditorSoloman Van Dellen entered the Class 3-A state boys basketball tournament averaging 0.9 points per game for the Riverton Wolverines this season, as the big, 6-foot-8 center found himself backing up fellow junior Ridge McCoy, no shrinking violet himself at 6-foot-5, for head coach Stuart Mullins's club.
In fact, Van Dellen didn't even get off the bench in 10 entire games this season.
However, the reason one remains ready, continuing to work hard in practice, and maintaining a positive attitude despite limited playing time is because you never know when one of your brothers-in-arms falls with an injury and you'll be asked to step in a provide a tourniquet of relief for your teammates.
So, when McCoy went down with a season-ending knee ailment during the Class 3-A West regionals last weekend, in came Van Dellen to the rescue, giving the Wolverines a respite for the loss of their big man in the middle.
Fast-forward to this week's state tournament in Casper.
Van Dellen didn't see much action in Riverton's first two games of the tourney, a decisive 59-32 opener against Rawlins and a dramatic 52-49 victory over Douglas in Friday's semifinal contest.
But, in neither one of those games did the Wolverines have to face Worland's Cody Baumstarck.
The Warriors' 6-foot-8 center posted an incredible Shaq-like line of 29 points and 24 rebounds in their opener, a 57-33 win against Pinedale, then followed up with 22 points and 14 boards in a 51-30 semifinal victory over Lyman.
Big trouble for Big Red in Saturday's championship game against the defending Class 3-A state champions?
That is exactly how it seemed in the opening minutes, as Baumstarck had his way down low early on, hitting a couple of quick baskets for the Warriors.
Enter Van Dellen.
Off the bench came the reserve, who played but 12:26 in the Wolverines' 62-34 victory -- but oh, what a big 12:26 it was.
All of a sudden, Baumstarck quickly realized he had finally met his match, as Van Dellen provided a physical presence to challenge him at both ends of the court, which seemed to unnerve the Worland pivot.
Sure, he still finished the game with a respectable 12 points and six rebounds in 30:24 seconds of action, but it was those 12 minutes and 26 seconds he was matched up against Van Dellen which made all the difference.
Van Dellen scored eight points and pulled down seven rebounds in roughly a quarter-and-a-half of play.
Project that out for a full 32 minutes and you have about 25 points and 15 rebounds -- not a bad day at the office.
Also not bad considering he had scored only 18 points all season coming into the title bout, including three in the Douglas game the previous evening.
As soon as Worland realized they couldn't simply dump it down low to Baumstarck for easy, uncontested buckets, the entire complexion of the game changed from the Warriors' perspective.
However, it was business as usual for Mullins' charges.
Which meant no one player dominated the game, because nobody needed to due to the squad depth the Wolverines employed all season long in proving they could beat you however you wanted your lunch handed to you.
Want to run-and-gun?
Slow it down to a half-court game?
Mix it up with a little of both?
Riverton averaged 66.2 points per game this season and despite the fact they only hit that benchmark in one of their six postseason games, no matter.
In fact, the Wolverines continued to showcase their versatility with a different leading scorer in all three games in Casper.
Teron Doebele led Riverton with 14 points against Rawlins, followed by Brady Fullerton's 21 in the thriller against Douglas.
Finally in the title triumph against Worland, it was Kylan Shultz, averaging only 6.3, who scored 14 points to lead Big Red.
Easton Paxton was the most consistent Wolverine on the weekend, scoring 10, 15 and 13 for a total of 38 points in his final three competitive basketball games before heading off to North Carolina State to begin his collegiate golf career.
Speaking of which, how athletic is this Riverton squad?
Along with Paxton's golf ride, Alec Richardson, who happens to be a reigning state long jump champion, has a track scholarship to Idaho State.
Not to mention Paxton's younger brother, Treyton, is in line to be the Wolverines' starting quarterback on the gridiron next season and McCoy is one of the state's top American Legion baseball players.
Not bad for a bunch of guys for whom basketball seemingly isn't even their best sport.
So, Riverton has its first-ever state boys basketball championship at the end of a season during which it seemed inevitable.
One final point.
In this, the Wolverines' first season playing Class 3-A basketball, the two teams who took the court at the Casper Events Center to battle for the Class 4-A crown were Rock Springs and Kelly Walsh.
The Wolverines defeated Rock Springs in their season-opener, 72-58, and beat Kelly Walsh, 56-42, in the third game of the season all the way back in December.
Riverton also vanquished Sheridan, which beat Gillette in the Class 4-A third-place game by a 59-51 score.
Seems as if the Wolverines can stake a more-than-legitimate claim as de-facto Wyoming state champions across all classes.
Congratulations on a job well done.
Very cool, indeed.
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