By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Kevin McInnis
WEST JORDAN – The Bingham High boys basketball team looks more and more like a state tournament front-runner every time it takes the court. Tuesday, aggressive defense led the way for the Miners as they essentially locked up the Region 3 title with a 66-59 victory over second-place Copper Hills.
It was the third meeting of the season between these two elite teams, as the Grizzlies captured Round 1 in the title game of the preseason Elite 8 tournament before dropping both regular-season league contests to Bingham. After Copper Hills tripped up against West Jordan a week ago, this was a critical game for the home team, but instead it was the Miners picked up their 11th consecutive win.
With three games left in the campaign, Bingham now has both a three-game advantage in the standings and the head-to-head victory against the Grizzlies. While the Miners will play out the regular season with a trio of contests against the three teams that appear destined to miss the postseason tournament, Copper Hills still faces a couple of contests that will decide its seeding position in the state playoffs.
Tuesday’s battle began as a tightly-contested defensive struggle as the Grizzlies kept Bingham off balance with a 2-3 zone and limiting the post touches for Miner big man Yoeli Childs by pinching him from the front and the back. On the other end, Bingham varied its look defensively, but whether they were in zone or man-to-man, the Miners harassed the Copper Hills guard and completely eliminated 6-foot-8 center Porter Hawkins from the equation.
Bingham’s defense is fueled by the aggressive ball-hawking skills of 6-6 junior Samuta Avea and 6-2 junior Dason Youngblood. Add to that the ability of Childs to erase scoring chances when opponents get to the rim and you have the lethal defensive combination that makes the Miners so tough.
While he did not get a lot of scoring chances and had no points during the initial stanza, Childs was still dominant. The 6-8 senior forward pulled down six first-quarter rebounds and blocked two shots as the teams traded 7-2 runs to arrive at a 9-9 tie after the opening eight minutes.
Childs opened the second period emphatically, scoring his first points of the night on a follow dunk. He teamed with 6-3 junior guard Lleyton Parker as Bingham opened a 25-20 lead by intermission. Parker scored 12 in the first half, and Childs went to the locker room with six points, nine boards and three blocks.
The Miners seized control of the game after the break as Samuta Avea got his game going with 11 points in the third, and eventually Bingham opened a 14-point advantage by the early stages of the fourth quarter. Copper Hills closed within four a couple of times late in the contest, but the Grizzlies were never able to get closer than that, as Childs and 6-4 guard Schyler Shoemaker held them off at the offensive end while that signature Miner defense continued to deliver.
Copper Hills managed to finally get a couple of shots to drop on drives to the bucket, but after hitting just two 3-pointers through the first three periods, a quartet of long balls aided in the late run. Charlie Olsen drained a pair of late treys, while Preston Sanchez and Sheldon Chatlain each drained one from distance in the final stanza.
One of those Olsen bombs closed the margin to 63-59 with 26.9 seconds remaining, but Bingham’s Simote Lokotui had an assist, a rebound and a steal in those closing seconds to finish off the Grizzlies.
Sanchez scored 19 to lead the way for Copper Hills, while Olsen finished with 15 and senior guard Trevor Hoffman tallied 11 points for the Grizzlies.
Three Miners shared the team’s scoring lead with 15 points each as Childs pulled down 13 rebounds and blocked four shots to go with his 15. Avea also finished with 15 points as he ripped down seven boards and blocked a pair of shots, and Parker also dropped 15, with three assists and three steals. Shoemaker also reached double figures with 10 points to go with five boards.
Copper Hills (6-3 in Region 3, 16-3 overall) hosts Taylorsville (1-7, 4-15) Friday night before finishing the season next week with critical battles against Brighton (5-3, 12-7) and Jordan (5-4, 11-9) as the Grizzlies try to hold off those two teams and lock down the No. 2 seed from the league heading into the postseason.
Bingham (9-0, 17-2) hosts West Jordan (3-5, 12-7) Friday, and then closes out its season against Taylorsville and Cottonwood (1-8, 4-13).