CASPER – The Southeast High School boys’ basketball team came into the 2021-22 season having to replace six seniors from the previous year.
With not a lot of varsity experience, the Cyclones managed to reach the 1A East Regional Championship game and put themselves in a position to bring back some hardware from the state tournament over the weekend.
They came up short in the hunt for a trophy, but that didn’t deter first-year Southeast coach Craig Leithead from calling the season a success.
“There were challenges, but these boys pushed through a lot of adversity,” he said. They figured out ways to get it done. We were underdogs. We started out the season with little experience, and they got themselves in a position where we got to state and played for a regional championship. To wrap it up, I would call it a success.”
The Cyclones concluded the season with a 13-14 record after falling to Burlington in the consolation championship Saturday afternoon at the Natrona County High School gym.
Southeast ended the state tournament with 1-2 record, falling to Burlington and Farson-Eden, but picking up a win over the Hulett Red Devils.
On Thursday, the Cyclones lost to the Farson-Eden Pronghorns 36-28 in a defensive struggle.
“Farson is a very, very defensive-minded team,” Leithead said. “There man-help defense is one of the best in 1A. They are pretty similar to us. They are a very disciplined team.”
As a result, Southeast struggled to make shots, shooting 28.1% (9-of-32) from the floor, while the Pronghorns shot 33.3% (13-of-39).
The game featured two ties and two lead changes, but Farson-Eden led 12-5 after one quarter, pushing it to 23-14 at halftime.
In the second half, Southeast outscored the Pronghorns 14-13, but it wasn’t enough to advance to the semifinal around.
Freshman Ayden Desmond and junior Austin Short led the Cyclones in scoring with seven apiece. Desmond also grabbed a team-high seven rebounds and four steals.
The loss setup a rematch between Southeast and Hulett. In the first meeting Hulett defeated the Cyclones 52-47 in Yoder.
This game was different.
It was a low-scoring, defensive struggle, but this time, Southeast got a 34-25 victory.
“We had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder with Hulett. They got us at the first of the year, and we came out wanted to get the win,” Leithead said. “It was probably one of the best games we’ve played all year.”
Southeast scored the first five points of the game, holding Hulett to only 27% shooting, including 22% in the first half.
“Our defense was impeccable,” Leithead said. “The intensity from all the boys was awesome. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Hulett got no closer than two points when they closed the gap to 7-5 at the end of the first quarter.
Over the final two quarters, Southeast slowly pulled away, leading 19-12 at halftime and 25-15 after three quarters.
The win advanced the Cyclones to the fifth-place game against the Burlington Huskies.
In the end, the Huskies ran away with a 57-38 victory.
“It was a tough one. We started out kind of slow again,” Leithead said. “It would have been nice to bring home some hardware, but that Burlington team is a pretty athletic team. We just didn’t do what we needed to do.”
Burlington scored eight of the first 10 points, forcing the Southeast coach to call a timeout.
Scores from Short and junior Kyler Clark cut the Burlington lead to 10-6, and that was as close to seeing the lead Southeast came for the rest of the game.
The Cyclones had trouble keeping up with Burlington’s speed throughout the game.
“When you do the pace game, you have to make those easy buckets, and they just weren’t falling for us in the first half,” Leithead said. “Once you start missing those buckets, the pace is what we had to do to get some points on the board.”
Southeast shot 31.9% (15-of-47), while allowing Burlington to shot 44.2% (23-of-52).
Short led the Cyclones with 18 points, while Desmond tallied a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
The loss also marks the end of the careers of two Cyclones in Kirk Kay and Jake Kramer.
“Kirk is the most hustle player I’ve ever seen in my life. He gets after it. He’s the kind of player who’s going to give you 100% – he’ll give you more than 100% every time he steps on the court,” Leithead said. “Jake has been with us for the past three years, and he’s been a lot of fun. He’s got a good sense of humor. He likes being a part of the team, and we love having him apart of the team. I’m going to miss both them. I’m going to miss their defensive hustle and willingness to get out there and go.”
The Cyclones will return four starters next season, and Leithead said there is a lot to look forward to in coming seasons.
“We are hoping to build a program and to get these younger kids to play more basketball in the off season,” he said. “We have a lot of good things to look forward to.”