Mar 12, 2017 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff WriterRiverton ended a 28-1 season with a 62-34 victory against Worland in the Class 3-A championship game for its first-ever state crown.
CASPER -- Early in Saturday's Class 3-A boys basketball state championship game at the Casper Events Center, it was apparent the post player would impact the biggest game of his high school career.
But nobody thought it would be Riverton's big man.
Soloman VanDellen, a junior and little-used reserve in the regular season, neutralized Worland's big Cody Baumstarck, scored at will in the first half, and sucked up offensive rebounds like a vacuum cleaner, helping propel the Wolverines to their first state boys basketball championship in school history, 62-34, over the defending Class 3-A state champion Worland Warriors.
"Soloman got us going, and that ignited a flame that carried on the entire game," said Riverton head coach Stuart Mullins. "We knew we had a good matchup with him. Sol is so big and strong."
VanDellen entered the game with 4:36 remaining in the first quarter and immediately pulled down two offensive rebounds, blocked a shot, forced a turnover, and scored three consecutive Riverton buckets to give the Wolverines a double-digit lead it would never relinquish.
Both Baumstarck and VanDellen are 6-foot-8.
"As great as Sol was offensively, acting like a seasoned veteran, he was as good defensively, and that was huge for us," said Mullins.
As surprising as VanDellen's play was, also huge was the unexpected contributions of Riverton's Kylan Shultz, who hit three 3-point shots and led all scorers with 14 points in his final game as a Wolverine.
"We just were thinking we needed to finish this out for each other," said Shultz. "From the first week of the season, that's what we wanted to do. It's about us today."
Seniors Teron Doebele and Easton Paxton both scored 13 points for Riverton.
Riverton advanced to Saturday's championship game with a thrilling 52-49 win over Douglas in the state semifinal, and were led by senior Brady Fullerton who poured in 21 points.
"It starts on defense and coach told us if we played defense, we would win a state championship," said Fullerton.
Riverton played shutdown defense all night long, limiting Worland to single digits in the first, second and fourth quarters and just 11 points in the third.
Mullins said he knew Riverton had the state title in hand midway through the third quarter and so did the large Riverton fan base which made the trip to Casper.
"I was waiting for them to make a run, and they did," said Mullins. "But, we matched them point for point."
If there was any doubt whether Worland would close the gap, Alec Richardson's 3-pointer with 1:30 remaining in the third quarter erased those thoughts.
Paxton then drove hard to the bucket in the final seconds of the quarter and, with his left hand, kissed a layup high off the backboard over Baumstarck at the buzzer.
Shultz duplicated the play from the right side to start the fourth, and Kyren Higgs also hit a layup after a Paxton steal moments later.
After a timeout, Riverton milked some clock before Paxton drained another dagger, this one a long three from the right side.
Leading 54-28 midway through the fourth, Riverton subbed its emotional seniors out of the game and cruised to the championship stand.
"This means everything. It's something you dream about as a young coach and talk about with other coaches about how to build a program. I can't tell you how proud I am of this team, they're such great kids," said Mullins. "The senior leadership took over."
Riverton, playing in Class 4-A until this season, has competed in five of the last seven regional championship games and also played in the 2013 state championship game, falling to Evanston.
"This time we finished," said Mullins.
Baumstarck led Worland in scoring with 12 points.
"No one really pushed him out of the paint, and that's what we wanted to do," said senior Higgs. "We were so focused and motivated. We had a chip on our shoulder from last year, and we knew if we put the time in, we could do it."
Riverton ends the season with a record of 28-1, the only loss coming last week in the regional tournament to Lyman, which lost Friday in the 3-A semifinals to Worland.
Riverton 52, Douglas 49
In front of a loud, standing room-only crowd at Swede Erickson Thunderbird Gym on the campus of Casper College, Riverton edged Douglas 52-49, in a classic Class 3-A state tournament semifinal matchup on Friday.
The crowd was so large at least 200 fans, some likely from Riverton and Douglas, were not allowed in the gym to see the game, Wyoming High School Activities Association Associate Commissioner Trevor Wilson said.
Earlier in the season, Riverton needed an overtime before beating the Bearcats, but on Friday night, the Wolverines, on the shoulders of seniors Brady Fullerton and Easton Paxton, clung to a late-game, single-digit lead to punch their ticket to Saturday's final.
"I knew it was going to be a good game," said Douglas coach Lee Toldson. "Riverton is a really good team and well-coached. They came up with bigger plays than us down the stretch."
Fullerton, who led all scorers with 21 points, dribbled calmly above the 3-point arc as the seconds were ticking down at the end of the third quarter, which had five lead changes in the last five possessions.
Waiting for the last shot and hearing the Bearcats' Ty Larson talk as he was defending, Fullerton penetrated to his right, stopped and popped the buzzer-beater to dramatically give the Wolverines a 36-35 lead as the crowd roared and Riverton's bench exploded.
The Wolverines tried to expand the lead in the fourth quarter as Fullerton, with a huge jump stop and layup, gave Riverton the lead at 46-41 after Douglas had called a timeout and came out in a press.
On the next possession, Teron Doebele was called for a key intentional foul against the Bearcats' big Dillon Silzell, which put Silzell at the line for two and gave Douglas possession with 2:17 still on the clock.
"I'm not going to lie to you," said Doebele. "I knew he wasn't a great free-throw shooter, but it was magnified because it was toward the end. I did my best to make sure he didn't get the shot off."
Doebele was right, as Silzell, a 31 percent free- throw shooter coming into the game, missed both charities, but did snag one of his five offensive rebounds on the next possession to make the score 46-43, in favor of Riverton at the 2-minute mark.
The Wolverines used a timeout at 1:34 and made the decision to play keep-away from the athletic Bearcats to try and shorten the game and they did. With a guard-heavy lineup, the Wolverines maintained possession until 0:41 remained, when Fullerton, under heavy pressure with the ball, was granted a timeout and the stage was set for the game's dramatic final seconds.
Out of the break, Riverton again was patient, but the offense found Paxton in the right corner, all alone.
He hesitated at first, wanting to drain more clock, but then fired off a huge 3-point bomb that found gold at the end of the rainbow, and the big Riverton crowd went nuts.
"It was emotional," said Paxton.
But Douglas wasn't done.
Harley Rhoades answered with a three of his own with 0:21 still on the clock and the Bearcats, back within three, pressed.
"We wanted to get the ball into Easton's hands," said Mullins.
Which is exactly what Riverton did.
Paxton was fouled by Silzell and nailed both free throws to put Riverton up by five at 51-46 with 0:19 left.
Paxton finished with 15 points.
"No threes," yelled Doebele, and Riverton defended the perimeter.
Mark Vandeventer got a layup and Douglas was back within three at 51-48, then fouled again to put the Wolverines on the line with 0:09 still on the clock.
Treyton Paxton missed the front end of the bonus, and Douglas got the ball to midcourt with 3.8 seconds remaining.
After a timeout, the Wolverines fouled Larson before he could get off a shot, sending him to the line for potentially two free throws. But his team was down by three.
It was a gutsy call.
"We weren't going to get burned again," Mullins said. "Brady made a great foul with their back to the basket. I was going to go out like that. If they were going to beat us, that's how it was going to be."
Larson tried to miss, got his rebound, but had stepped over the free-throw line before the ball hit the rim, a violation that sealed Riverton's chance to claim their first-ever state championship in boys basketball.
Worland 6 9 11 8-- 34
Riverton 20 11 16 15-- 62
Worland (34) Leyva 1 0-0 2, Baumstarck 4 4-4 12, Wyman 4 2-2 10, Mortimer 1 0-0 2, Terrazas 1 (1) 0-0 5, Swalstad 0 3-4 3. Totals 11 (1) 9-12 34.
Riverton (62) Richardson 0 (1) 0-0 3, Higgs 2 0-0 4, Draper 0 0-0 0, LoneBear 0 0-0 0, E. Paxton 2 (3) 0-0 13, Doebele 5 (1) 0-0 13, Frazier 0 0-0 0, T. Paxton 0 0-0 0, Fullerton 2 (1) 0-0 7, Shultz 2 (3) 1-2 14, VanDellen 4 0-0 8. Totals 17 (9) 1-2 62.
Douglas 15 6 14 14-- 49
Riverton 12 11 13 16-- 52
Douglas (49) Larson 2 (1) 4-5 11, Rhoades 0 (2) 0-0 6, Leman 2 0-0 4, Silzell 3 0-2 6, Jammerman 3 (3) 4-5 19, Vandeventer 1 1-2 3. Totals 11 (6) 9-14 49.
Riverton (52) Richardson 0 0-0 0, Higgs 2 0-0 4, LoneBear 0 0-0 0, E. Paxton 2 (2) 5-6 15, Doebele 1 (1) 0-2 5, T. Paxton 0 0-1 0 0, Fullerton 6 (2) 3-4 21, Shultz 2 0-0 4, VanDellen 0 3-4 3. Totals 13 (5) 11-19 52.
Get your copy of The Ranger online, every day! If you are a current print subscriber and want to also access dailyranger.com online (there is nothing more to purchase) including being able to download The Mining and Energy Edition, click here. Looking to start a new online subscription to dailyranger.com (even if it is for just one day)? Access our secure SSL encrypted server and start your subscription now by clicking here.