ST. GEORGE – There are nights, and no one knows when they will come, when a team’s best player just has to take over a game.
Wednesday night, with Pine View bearing down and two of his teammates unavailable, Desert Hills forward Ty Rutledge put his Thunder mates on his back and carried them past the Panthers. The result was a key 48-39 Region 9 win at the Thunderdome.
“I don’t want to take over a game, but if it comes to that, I can,” said Rutledge, who scored all 12 of his team’s points in the third quarter. “I just saw some opportunities and it felt like we needed a lift.”
Rutledge, a 6-foot-4 senior, finished the night with 22 points and five rebounds. But it was that dominant third quarter that had the folks shaking their heads in amazement, including DH coach Wade Turley.
“He’s a great leader and terrific scorer,” Turley said. “But the best thing is, he is the best competitor I’ve ever coached. He just won’t let us lose.”
Rutledge made his return after missing several weeks due to an ankle injury. It was just in time, too, as the Thunder were without Taylor Houston (sprained ankle) and Jordan Hokanson (suspended indefinitely for breaking undisclosed team rules).
“Ty is an amazing player,” Desert Hills guard Brycen Williams said. “It’s great to have him back out there. When we’re able to incorporate him back into the offense, it makes a big difference for us.”
Rutledge had six points in the first half as the Thunder were able to forge a 26-19 edge at the break. But he really took over during a key stretch for Desert Hills in the third. Pine View’s Kody Wilstead, who was dominant himself at times (15 rebounds, eight blocked shots), scored to bring the Panthers within 28-23 and, a moment later, had a pair of free throws that could have made it 28-25.
Unfortunately for the Panthers, Wilstead missed both charity shots and 12 seconds later Rutledge drove the lane, nailed an off-balance shot and hit the and-1 free throw to make it 31-23. After a Jack Bangerter bucket helped PV cut it to 31-25, Rutledge stepped back for a 3-pointer to make it 34-25, then nailed another traditional 3-point play to push the lead to the biggest of the night at 37-25.
The Panthers thrice pulled to within six in the fourth quarter, but each time Williams and Rutledge hit free throws to preserve the lead. Desert Hills made six of its final seven freebies to ice the game.
“Ty is a great competitor and player,” Pine View’s Dallin Milne said. “But we had our chances tonight. Sometimes the shots just don’t fall.”
True that, as Pine View trailed 40-34 with 4:35 left in the game and had numerous possessions to get even closer, but couldn’t get the key bucket.
Pine View hit just 13 of 44 shot attempts in the game (29.5 percent), while Desert Hills was 17 of 54 (31.6 percent). The two teams combined to go just 2 of 17 from beyond the arc in the game.
The Thunder, who got four steals and a pair of assists from Williams, improve to 10-3 overall and 3-1 in region 9 play. Milne led Pine View with 15 points, but the Panthers fell to 8-5 overall and 1-2 in region.
Desert Hills is off Friday and resumes region play next Wednesday at home against Snow Canyon. Pine View plays host to Dixie Friday night.
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