NEWCASTLE – The Outlaws are regional champions.

Following three consecutive wins in the 3A East regional bracket Thursday through Saturday, Rawlins punched their ticket to the first round of the state tourney against a No. 4-seeded team.

“Winning the regional championship is a huge credit to our kids coming together and playing as a team,” coach Denver Allard said. “We had the same exact record heading into regionals last year, but just couldn’t keep our composure at crunch time or gel as a team for much of the regional tournament.”

Rawlins, who gets set to tip off against Powell at 9 p.m. on Thursday at the Casper Events Center, went on an absolute offensive tear during regional play. In fact, each game saw at least three Outlaws recording points double digits.

Leading the charge was sophomore Ashton Barto, who not only prospered on offense, but made a palpable impact defensively. During Thursday’s 50-40 win over Hot Springs County, Barto scored 16 points while stealing the ball six times. To to piggyback, Barto dropped during Friday’s 79-69 win over Buffalo another 18 points while he garnered five steals.

Barto capped off Rawlins’ 58-49 regional championship win over Torrington on Saturday with another 14 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals.

“As you can see from the stats, Ashton was involved heavily in absolutely every statistical category in all three games,” Allard said. “He averaged 16 points, five rebounds, four steals and four assists a game. For anyone with any basketball knowledge, you really have to respect his all-around performance and game.”

Despite the statistical success, the Outlaws still had to slightly improvise against Torrington. Head coach Neil Baker decided to stray away from man-to-man defense, and it worked… for the most part.

Rawlins outscored the Trailblazers 15-14 in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Outlaws remained consistent in the offensive zone, outscoring Torrington 19-12 to head into halftime with a 34-26 lead.

“We were not able to get the turnovers out of Torrington that we did the previous week and the result was a much closer contest this time around,” Allard said. Rawlins beat the Trailblazers 60-42 on Feb. 28. “Torrington again played zone versus us and for much of the game they took away our inside presence offensively.”

Had it not been for Rawlins’ outside shooters – senior Kyson Robinson and junior Mitchell Allard combined for eight three-point field goals during the game – the game could’ve turned out differently.

“Again,” Denver Allard said, “we rode the good outside shooting from Kyson and Mitchell’s three-point field goals to help open up things on the inside.”

The second half, however, was not walk in the park. With the help of Torrington’s defense, Rawlins was outscored 11-10 to end the third quarter. This means Rawlins only had a seven-point lead heading into the last stanza. But, just as the adversity began to mount late in the game, the Outlaws persevered, dropping in 14 insurance points to Torrington’s 12.

A bit of a preview for Thursday’s 3A state tourney first-round matchup against Powell, the Outlaws lost to the Panthers 54-45 on Dec. 14. Additionally, Rawlins will be vying to nab their third state championship crown (1997, 1982).

SCORE: Rawlins 58, Torrington 49

TOP PERFORMANCES: Points: Kyson Robinson, 19; Ashton Barto, 14; Mitchell Allard, 11; Ryan Flack, 9. Rebounds: Ashton Barto, 6; Connor Mendez, Ryan Flack, Angel Villarreal, 2 respectively. Assists: Ashton Barto 7; Angel Villarreal, 3; Kyson Robinson, 2.

BEATING BUFFALO

Friday in Newcastle was a redemption game. Earlier this year, Buffalo bested Rawlins 65-54 on Feb. 15. Rawlins simply returned the favor, taking Buffalo 79-69 in the 3A East regional semifinals.

“Buffalo is a good team that beat us by 11 at their place, but our kids were not going to be denied the opportunity to play for a regional championship,” Denver Allard said. “They were determined and played as a team about as good as I’ve seen this year. It was quite awesome to see!”

As if they were going to nab their second win this season against Rawlins, Buffalo was determined to punch the Outlaws in the stomach early on. The Bison ended the first quarter with a 16-11 lead.

“Like Thursday, we came out facing a little bit of a scoring deficit as Buffalo led by almost double digits early,” Denver Allard said. “But once we started moving without the ball and getting inside of their zone, we were able to find high-percentage shots or get fouled as we shot 36 field-goal attempts.”

Rawlins surged back offensively in the second quarter, outscoring Buffalo 24-17. Now up 35-33, the hot hands of Rawlins continued to dominate in the third quarter, as they netted 25 points to Buffalo’s 10.

The Bison, however, weren’t finished. They would outscore Rawlins 26-19 in the last stanza.

“We had a 17-point lead going into the fourth and Buffalo made a great run to get to seven (points) with four minutes to play,” Denver Allard said.

Rawlins, however, would simply outlast Buffalo until the buzzer.

SCORE: Rawlins 79, Buffalo 69

TOP PERFORMERS: Points: Ashton Barto, 18; Ryan Flack, 14; Angel Villarreal, 12; Connor Mendez, Kadin Forney, 9 respectively; Mitchell Allard, 8. Rebounds: Ryan Flack, 6; Ashton Barto, Kyson Robinson, 4 respectively. Steals: Ashton Barto, 5; Ryan Flack, 2. Assists: Angel Villarreal, 4; Ashton Barto, 2.

QUARTERFINAL TRIUMPH

To mark Denver Allard’s 200th victory as Rawlins’ head coach, his Outlaws bested Hot Springs County of Thermopolis 50-40 on Thursday in Newcastle.

And just like every other game Rawlins had to win to take the 3A East regional tournament, the Outlaws’ second half proved more defining than the first.

“It was a tight game,” Denver Allard said.

Facing a stiff Bobcats defense, Rawlins got outscored in the first quarter 9-8. This transitioned into another tit-for-tat battle in the second quarter. Rawlins shooters, however, heated up, as they helped take the halftime lead on Hot Springs 22-20.

“Thermopolis played a very aggressive and physical two-three zone, that they packed in,” Denver Allard said. “There was not much room to get the ball inside it via dribble or pass.”

Then came the second half. Rawlins, dealing with problems in the paint, were forced to use their skills beyond the arc. They’d eventually outscore their opponents 12-9 and 16-11 in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.

“Ashton (Barto) and Mitchell (Allard) made three three-pointers a piece to help extend and spread out the zone, and at that point we were able to get the inside and often fouled as we shot 31 times from the free-throw line,” Denver Allard said. “We only had four players score, which is rare, but everyone found a way to contribute to this win.”

SCORE: Rawlins 50, Hot Springs County 40

TOP PERFORMERS: Points: Ashton Barto, 16; Angel Villarreal, 12; Mitchell Allard, Ryan Flack, 11 respectively. Rebounds: Ryan Flack, 8; Kyson Robinson, Ashton Barto, 4 respectively. Steals: Ashton Barto, 6; Jarron Mascarenas, Mitchell Allard, 2 respectively. Assists: Ashton Barto, Jarron Mascarenas, 2 respectively.

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