Park City boys basketball upsets No. 7 Lehi in first round of playoff
Thomas Purcell was never going to stop believing.
Despite the Park City boys basketball team’s 5-15 overall record, despite the 1-13 record in Region 8, despite the blown leads and mental lapses, the coach never lost faith in his team.
“I do think that if we stayed positive and together, if we didn’t come apart as a team, we would be good at the end of the year,” Purcell said on Monday, before his team’s matchup with No. 7 Lehi in the first round of the Class 5A state tournament. “I have all the faith in the world in this team. Our goal is to be a cohesive team at the end of the year, and I really believed we could achieve that and then start over again in the playoffs where anything can happen.”
Anything did happen. Purcell’s confidence paid off when the 26th-seeded Miners upset the Pioneers 48-45 on the road Wednesday behind a combined 31 points from senior Mark McCurdy and sophomore Mitch Lind. The postseason victory was the first for the Miners in over 15 years.
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“It’s all about the kids, just sticking together, working hard and getting better. … This win is a testament to them,” Purcell said on Thursday. “I told them that they can forget about the ‘we’ part of us because that’s just who they’ve become naturally. We didn’t have to be the best team in the state on Wednesday, we just had to be better than Lehi. … And we were.”
Trailing by two points entering the fourth quarter after being outscored 14-9 in the third, the Miners never lost faith in one another.
McCurdy’s layup with 15 seconds left gave Park City a 46-45 lead. A defensive stop and two more points ended the game and booked the Miners’ trip to the second round.
“We were in one of our more basic screen plays where we have two screeners to try and find the opening,” McCurdy said of the game-winning possession. “Nothing was open on the first screen so I continued onto the second one. … I was able to beat the guy who came off the screen and the ball dropped. I never had a doubt that we wouldn’t win this game when I was coming down the court on that possession.”
Park City will hit the road again for the second round of the playoffs with a matchup against No. 10 Bountiful on Friday.
Purcell’s belief in his team that they could pull the upset didn’t just come out of nowhere.
All season long, even amid a nine-game losing streak in region play, he kept preaching to his boys about staying the course. He could see the improvement on a daily basis, and although it wasn’t translating to wins, it was slowly starting to give the boys confidence that the games were close in the end.
“Throughout the whole year, there were definitely some times when it was really frustrating but at the same time we could see our improvement,” McCurdy said. “Coach kept us motivated. … Then in the second half of the season, we could really see how close the games were and how we should’ve won a lot more of them. We could see we were better and I think that’s what helped keep us all together in the end.”
The Miners entered the postseason battle tested.
The No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in 5A are Maple Mountain and Springville, respectively, teams in Region 8. Provo, another Region 8 team, also advanced to the second round of the playoffs. Altogether, Region 8 placed seven teams in the top 20 of the RPI rankings.
Playing in such a tough region gave Purcell and his boys a sense of confidence entering Wednesday night, knowing that they’ve played stronger teams than Lehi and played them tough.
“I really think the consistency and the quality of the opponent we faced on a nightly basis prepared us for the postseason,” Purcell said. “The ability of the kids to get ready and give their best effort is what sets us apart against Lehi.”
Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, securing the first round victory over Lehi not only helps send the seniors off on a positive foot, Purcell said it sets the stage for a bright future.
“I think as we go forward in the upcoming years, this program is going to be more and more successful. … And that’s because of this senior class,” Purcell said. “I think if you look at the numbers behind this class, the talent behind them and the work ethic, I think these seniors have played a huge role in setting a different standard for Park City basketball.”
Tipoff for Friday’s game at Bountiful is set for 7 p.m.
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It’s going to be at least another month before Summit County’s high school athletes have any chance of getting onto the field again.