CASPER – In front of the Platte Valley faithful at the Casper Events Center on Saturday, the Saratoga Panthers sealed their names into school history by carrying the first boys championship trophy home to Saratoga.

The path to this moment, however, was not an easy one.

GAME THREE (championship)

The state championship was played on Saturday at the Casper Events Center between Saratoga and fellow Southwest conference foe Farson-Eden Pronghorns. The two teams met twice during the regular season, and each team won on their home court.

“We knew what to expect from Farson, and went into the game motivated to win,” Gavin Bartlett commented on the matchup with the defending champion Pronghorns.

Win is exactly what the Panthers did.

Farson came out strong and seemed to keep it a game, but some foul trouble kept Saratoga in control, if only a little. The Pronghorns just weren’t able to get their shots to fall like they were against Encampment the night before, and didn’t have an answer for Bartlett and Logan Seahorn as the duo put up 17 and 16 points respectively. Junior teammate Noah Rimmer would also chip in 10 points as the Panthers took down Farson 52-42, sending Panthers fans into a raucous “Toga, Toga, Toga” chant that probably echoed the 150 or so miles back to Carbon County.

Going into the weekend, head coach Jason Williams felt they were one of a half dozen or so teams that had chance to win it all.

“We knew that it was going to come down to who could put together three days of good basketball. All of the work and time the boys put in the gym last summer paid off and I was very proud of their composure during the tight games,” Williams said. “I can’t say how happy I am to send off our two seniors, Menphis Smith and Logan Seahorn, with Saratoga’s first ever boys basketball title!”

All of the 2019-2020 team will be enshrined in Panthers history as the first team to bring a boys basketball state championship trophy to Saratoga. They finished the season 19-4, and will return most of the lineup as they look to defend the title.

GAME TWO (semifinals)

For Friday’s semifinal matchup, the Panthers faced No. 1 East seed Upton Bobcats, who, coming into this game, had only lost one game to a South Dakota school. Needless to say, the Bobcats were slight favorites to win.

From the opening tipoff, the intensity was on. Both schools brought large, vocal entourages, so the Natrona County high school gym was rarely quiet, but cat fights rarely are. There would be 11 lead changes, 12 tied ups, and the largest lead by either school was five points. Back and forth it went all the way down to six seconds left, and Saratoga had the ball and a one-point lead. Then Upton inbounded the ball, the Bobcat player ran the length of the court, lost control of the ball in what looked like a shot attempt, the ball went flying out of bounds, and then came a whistle. The Panthers were called for a foul, sending the Bobcats for one and bonus free-throw attempts. With less than a second left of play, Upton had a chance to snatch the game, and all that stood in their way were two uncontested shots 15 feet away from the rim. The entire gym was full of emotion – half with hope, the other with angst. The first shot went up, bounced high off the back of the rim sitting in the air for what felt like hours, and then fell through the hoop. The game was tied up at 46. In what looked like an attempt to ice the shooter, Saratoga called timeout. Out of the timeout back to the line, a second shot went up... and it missed. The buzzer went off, sending the game into overtime.

Overtime was more of the same back and forth, and with 24 seconds left, Saratoga clung to a two-point lead. Now with possession, all that was left to do was run out the clock, but a turnover out of bounds gave Upton back the ball. The Bobcats took advantage, driving in for short jump shot to tie the game at 55.

Saratoga inbounded, but then called timeout. With 12 seconds left, Noah Rimmer passed the ball in to Gavin Bartlett who dribbled the length of the court for a three-foot shot and missed. But he immediately grabbed his rebound, went back up and got fouled in the process. At the free-throw line with one second left in overtime, the six-foot junior had the chance to send his team to the state championship. Again, the whole gym was filled with either hope or angst.

Hitting the first free throw, the Panthers fans erupted with cheer. Bartlett then hit the second attempt. Now, with the Panthers up 57-55 with one second left, Upton was left with only a full -ourt desperation heave at the rim. The Bobcats inbounded, threw the ball up, but it was no good. The Panthers had stamped their ticket to the championship game against Farson-Eden.

The Rawlins Times caught up with Saratoga’s Gavin Bartlett about his game winning free throws.

“I felt fairly confident when I was on the line, since I had made a free throw earlier in the game,” he said. “And with the intensity of the game, I knew I had to make them.”

When asked about butterflies, or nerves, the junior added, “I didn’t really feel the pressure when I was shooting.”

That’s some serious reigning in on the moment, that not even all the professional players can achieve with the whole season on the line. To finish off his comments, Gavin Bartlett added, “I couldn’t ask for better teammates and coaches, it has been such a fun season.”

Bartlett ended the game with 19 points, followed by Teegan Love’s 17 points. Noah Rimmer posted a double-double with 14 points and 13 rebounds.

GAME ONE (quarterfinals)

On Thursday, The No. 2 West-seed Panthers started the 2020 state tourney against the No. 3 East-seeded Kaycee Buckaroos. Saratoga settled in for a long battle with Kaycee, in a game that was tied up eight times and had two different lead changes. Kaycee won the first quarter, Saratoga dug in to take the next three. They were led by Teegan Love’s 25 points, eight rebounds, as well as Gavin Bartlett’s 11 points. Logan Seahorn had nine points, while Menphis Smith had three points in the 50-43 victory.

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