For the first time in Trojan history both the girls and the boys earned the rare opportunity to compete for the basketball championship trophy in the state tournament. In a special treat for fans, this opportunity would play out in back-to-back games.
The honor represented the height of an era for Morgan basketball. Having just watched the girls fall to Desert Hills, the boys came prepared to avenge that loss in the second game of the championship doubleheader.
Morgan had been building momentum all week. Thursday’s game against former rival Bear River (13-11) ended in a 67-54 victory. On Friday, Morgan took down the Payson Lions (18-7). The Trojans seemed to gain poise and grow from every contest—working hard every night to outlast their opponents in fearless victories. Each threat to Morgan’s championship run only fueled more determination from the gritty Trojans.
Payson proved to be a great preparatory match-up for Morgan heading into the finals. Morgan was becoming accustomed to competing in tightly contested games and coming out on top. They had gained valuable experience fighting through adversity and earning every point. The semifinal game against Payson reinforced this lesson. Morgan ended the first quarter trailing the Lions by a point, and Garren Miles had already picked up two fouls.
Miles answered by sparking an impressive 14-0 run in the second quarter with a three-pointer and two foul shots. The Trojans never looked back the rest of the game. Morgan’s suffocating defense and incredible speed sparked quick accumulation of points off turnovers and fast breaks. Morgan has put together runs like this in almost every game of the season. Great defense opens up offensive opportunities.
Coming out of the tunnel to start the second half, Morgan looked calm and relaxed. They continued to exercise remarkable unselfishness—consistently running their offense with patience until the moment became right to strike. This requires a high degree of self-discipline and trust. Morgan’s incredible teamwork has been a trademark feature of this team throughout the season, and a big reason why they ended up in the finals.
Morgan defeated Payson with a 61-47 final score. If Morgan showed any vulnerability in the win, it was in their 18-31 (58 percent) free-throw shooting. Overall, Miles led Morgan with 20 points, and Ben Saunders added 15 points and six rebounds.
Morgan’s entire focus could now turn to Cedar High School (16-9). The Cedar Redmen essentially were playing in front of a home crowd. In a rough estimation of all the spectators, Morgan likely had close to 750 fans, an impressive number considering the 300-mile journey to Southern Utah University. However this only represented 20 percent of the crowd with hometown Cedar drawing five times the fan base.
Morgan had already faced Cedar in December, but fell short in that effort 54-53. Starters Matt Murdock and Bridger Streadbeck did not play in that game due to injuries. Now a healthy Morgan team looked forward to the rematch. Still hurting from the girls’ loss moments before, a hungry Morgan crowd rallied behind the boys’ team knowing there was one more chance for a Morgan championship that night. In this emotional environment, the referee tossed the ball in the air and the game was underway.
The Trojans scored first and jumped out to an early 6-2 lead. Morgan led from buzzer to buzzer in an emphatic win where the Redmen never took a turn on top.
This doesn’t mean the task was easy. Cedar enjoyed a significant height advantage over Morgan with two players listed as 6’8” including the talented big man, Dustin Staggs. At the guard position, Kordan Nielson anchored the offense with his play making, leadership and athleticism. Morgan paid no mind as they are afraid of nobody and refuse to be intimidated. The first quarter ended with Morgan on top 10-7.
In the second quarter Morgan’s incredible work ethic took center stage. Morgan achieves results and wins games because they work harder. The better-conditioned Trojans press the entire game, an exhausting feat that wears down opponents and takes them out of their offense. When a team hustles to the degree Morgan does, good things happen. The Trojans never let up—diving after loose balls, fighting for every rebound, anticipating every pass, challenging every shot, taking physical positions against opponents, and closing gaps with astonishing speed.
Matt Murdock has one of the toughest assignments on the floor—bringing the ball down the court and setting up the offense. Murdock perfectly embodies the sentiment of hard work as he is under pressure from baseline to baseline on both sides of the ball. He refuses to let up and sets the pace for the entire team. He is a smart player with great instincts. Cedar could not match up against this kind of intensity across an entire team of competitors. The Trojans had all the momentum as the first half came to an end, up by a score of 28-13.
Before going into the locker room during halftime, Morgan players and coaches stayed out to support their teammate. During intermission, Hayden Garfield received Academic All-State honors for his achievements in the classroom in addition to his achievements as an athlete. Garfield was the only Morgan recipient of this distinctive recognition.
The second half opened with a Garren Miles’s three-pointer and a subsequent stolen ball to maintain pressure on Cedar. Morgan maintained their lead throughout the quarter and ended the third period with a 39-24 lead.
With just eight minutes left to play before a champion was determined, Cedar dug deep to stage a small rally. They opened the quarter with two three-pointers to start an 8-0 run. The Trojans quickly shut them down again and left no opportunity for Cedar to sneak back into the game.
The poor free-throw shooting from the night before did not plague the Trojans again. Morgan made key foul shots down the stretch to ice the victory as Cedar continued to foul and stop the clock as their only remaining strategy.
With each pause in the action, Coach Jim Wiscombe’s spirits soared—even joking with the officiators to speed up the clock. As the last seconds ticked off the clock, cheers erupted in the 59-45 victory over Cedar.
Morgan had done it. Back-to-back state champions! Fans, coaches and players alike celebrated the win. Garren Miles beamed with exuberance. Ben Saunders lay on the floor doing snow angels. Everyone was hugging everyone while bouncing up and down with excitement. This was a special team, a special year and an exceptionally special moment. Morgan left no doubt they were still the best team in the state. Their final record for the season is 21-6, having won the last 16 games in a row—perfect in this calendar year.
In the victory, Morgan had four players scoring in double digits. Garren Miles led with 16 points. Bridger Streadbeck contributed 12 points and seven steals, while Ben Saunders added 11 points and four rebounds. Hunter Stanford again provided great all-around play with his 11 points and two steals. Matt Murdock ended with five points and five steals.
One of the reasons for Morgan’s prolonged success is the remarkable depth across the team. During Morgan’s frequent rotation system, players never miss a beat as they substitute in and out. Coming off the bench Hayden Garfield, Jordan Nelson, Hayden Murdock and Bobby Cluff consistently provided the competitive advantage Morgan needed to be a championship team.
Based on their performance throughout the tournament, several Morgan players were selected for the Deseret News 3A All-Tournament Team. Garren Miles led all scorers with his 16 points in the final game, and was named MVP. Matt Murdock (a difference maker in every aspect of the game) and Bridger Streadbeck (who poses a constant inside threat) were also selected for the all-tournament team. From Cedar’s team Kordan Nielson and Dustin Staggs were selected.
The full roster of Morgan players included seniors Garren Miles, Hayden Garfield, Hayden Murdock, Matt Murdock, Hunter Stanford, Bobby Cluff, Jordan Nelson and Ben Saunders. The remaining members of the team are juniors and will return next year to try for the three-peat. These include Tanner Drennan, Tyler Kelsey, Zack Pedersen, Jake Peterson and Bridger Streadbeck. Jim Wiscombe is the head coach assisted by Lowell Murdock, Kovi Christiansen and Aaron Preece. Alex Eddington is the team manager.
Congratulations on the exciting championship.