South Summit basketball: Wildcats battle to the end | ParkRecord.com

South Summit basketball: Wildcats battle to the end

Christopher Kamrani, The Park Record

When they first took the floor on Dec. 2 in Ogden, the South Summit Wildcats trotted out five players who had never started a high school varsity basketball.

Only two of the five — Matt Rydalch and Bonner Mitchell — had ever walked out on a basketball court as varsity players.

Three months later, that starting five, along with a bench full of sophomores and juniors, finished fourth at the 2A state tournament Saturday afternoon in Richfield.

It was quite a journey for the Wildcats and first-year head coach Dusty Hatch. After a 3-9 start, South Summit began a roll through Region 14, winning a region title no one thought possible. Winners of nine of its last 11, South Summit stormed into the 2A semifinals Friday in a matchup against the Richfield Wildcats.

But there the storybook season ended. The Wildcats of South Summit were on the wrong end of a suffocating defensive performance by hometown Richfield. They were held to just six field goals in a 39-27 semifinal loss.

One day later, South Summit lost in heartbreaking fashion to Manti, 49-48, in the third-place consolation game. The Wildcats led for almost 31 minutes, but tired legs led to a flurry of late misses from the free-throw line, allowing the Templars to steal the victory.

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But as Hatch looks back on his inaugural season as head coach of his alma mater, he said he wouldn’t change a thing about the 12-13 finish. He said he saw a team that was written off before the season even began grow as a unit and make a memorable run.

"If someone walked up to me before the season and said, ‘If you could finish fourth place in state, would you take that?’ I would say, ‘Absolutely, no question.’ Now that it’s all over with, I’m still a little disappointed we didn’t play for the championship. I thought we were playing well enough," he said.

"When we started this thing out, nobody in the community gave us a chance to be good. Even ourselves, I don’t think we gave ourselves the chance to be good, but as we got into the region, I think the kids finally started to believe we could do something special. And once we got down to the state tournament, there was no doubt we were going to play for a state championship. It’s funny how those things work. It was just a really fun experience to see the change in them."

The Wildcats were paced by seniors Bonner Mitchell, Matt Rydalch and Lucas Rydalch, who, Hatch said, had critical roles in South Summit’s run. In Saturday’s loss to Manti, Hatch said he saw Mitchell, his bruising 6-foot-4 center — who had played 64 straight minutes in the 2A quarterfinal win over Emery Thursday and the semifinal loss to Richfield Friday night — wear down after a season full of fight.

"You could tell he didn’t quite have his legs under him," he said.

That’s where Hatch won this season. He was able to step into a thorny situation and help his players win basketball games, and to him, that’s all that matters.

"It was a great learning experience for me. That’s the best way I can sum it up," he said. "We had our down moments, but we made adjustments as a coaching staff and I thought our kids made their own adjustments."

Along with the 2012 senior class, youngsters such as sophomores Beau Rydalch and Brad Richins helped the Wildcats’ second-half surge. Juniors Cole Richins, Garrett Crystal and Jay Reidhead brought tenacity to their positions, complementing the scoring abilities of the seniors.

"At the end of the Manti game, some of the younger boys came up to me and said, ‘We’re going to work harder than we ever have this spring and summer,’" Hatch said. "I think we have a good team coming back."