It was all Montana in the 43rd annual Wyoming-Montana All-Star Basketball series, but that doesn’t take anything away from efforts of the Evanston talent representated on the Wyoming team. Recently-graduated Evanston High School seniors Emmery Wagstaff, Chase Critchfield and Braxton Hiatt were selected to teams comprised of Wyoming’s 10 best basketball players, earning the right to square off with the Big Sky State’s top 10 on the hardwood, June 8-9. Games are played each year in Sheridan on Friday and in Billings, Montana, on Saturday.
On the guys’ side, the Montana all-star team defeated their Equality State neighbors, 76-63, in Sheridan, and 95-80 in Billings.
The victories were much more lop-sided in the girl’s contests, with Montana sweeping Wyoming, 61-37 and 84-35 in back-to-back 5:30 p.m. tip-offs.
Braxton Hiatt’s statistical output mirrors that of Wagstaff, as he averaged a team-best 19.2 points per game in his senior season and also scored more than 30 points in a single game.
Hiatt aligns even more with Critchfield. Both former Red Devils earned all-state awards for the 2017-18 season, played together on the Wyoming all-star team, will represent Evanston in the Wyoming Coaches Association north against the south game, not to mention both will serve LDS missions in the near future.
Hiatt should discover where he will serve in the next week or so, while Critchfield is headed to Des Moines, Iowa.
Critchfield is also a member of the 30-plus club, knocking down 31 against Cheyenne East, while Hiatt tallied a team-high and career-best 33 points versus the Pinedale Wranglers. Together, the scoring duo accounted for more than 37 of the 61.7 points-per-game the Red Devils averaged on the year, as Critchfield poured in 18.1 per contest, forming a solid inside-outside offensive presence and one-two scoring punch.
Their June 8-9 all-star weekend experiences, while most-assuredly similar on many levels, starkly contrasted in the scorebook. Or did they? Both players netted a total of 19 points over the course of the two-game series, after all. It’s just that Critchfield delivered in more steady-Eddie style, notching 12 points in the Sheridan game and following up with seven in Billings. Hiatt, conversely, scored all of his 19 in a game-high performance at Billings.
Hiatt told the Herald, “I probably couldn’t have had anything go more wrong in the first game,” referring to being held scoreless.
“In game two, I came out with a better attitude, was more focused and shot the ball with confidence, unlike in game one,” he added.
Hiatt primarily attributes the double-digit scoring deficits against Montana to superior team play.
“They had a size advantage and were probably more athletic than we were overall, but Montana just played more fundamentally sound and better as a team. We didn’t play that well as a team,” Hiatt said.
He said he appreciates the all-star experience and the chance to do so with his Red Devil teammate Critchfield. Hiatt said he looks forward to playing alongside Critchfield in the July 15 WCA All-Star Saturday annual match-up.
“It was awesome to play with Chase, and it will be again — someone I already know really well both on and off the court. I knew he had my back, but it was fun teaming up with the rest of the guys,” Hiatt added.
“I’d played against some of them and might not have been tight with them, might have even had problems with some of them back then, but then the season ends and you find yourself on the same team together and you become friends. They’re actually pretty cool guys.”
In another Evanston connection to the story, Hiatt and Critchfield were coached by Sheridan College Generals head basketball coach Matt Hammer, Campbell County Camels head basketball coach Bubba Hladky and former Red Devil basketball standout Cody Ball, who resides in Sheridan and serves as Director of Dual Enrollment Programs at the Northern Wyoming Community College District.
Hiatt said he hopes his playing days have not come to a close once he returns from his mission.
“That’s a bucket list item for me, to try and play college ball somewhere when I return,” Hiatt said. “I guess a lot will be determined by what I’m like after my mission.”
Critchfield, whom the Herald spoke with right before press time, echoed the sentiments of both Hiatt and Wagstaff. He deemed the practice sessions as rewarding in terms of the talent he was surrounded by, but also challenging from a chemistry perspective, giving the nod to the Montana squad for their cohesiveness.
“It was great to play with Braxton, but he and I were the only two from the west and it was tough to gel as a team with the guys we had played against and the others,” he said.
“The practices had a high level of intensity and it was fun to be in the mix with all that talent,” he added.
Critchfield stated he has actually played against some of the players from Montana in AAU competition, and like Hiatt, thought the competition played superior team basketball, but chalked it up to the team from the north having more time to get to know one another better, due to more of the players having the opportunity to play with one another, more often, prior to coming together as the Montana All-Stars team.
Critchfield said he would also like to continue his hoops career upon completion of his mission.
“That is still the dream, to come back and play junior college ball somewhere,” he said.
The 2018 Red Devil guard has had informal discussions with most all of the junior colleges in Wyoming, along with Salt Lake community College and the College of Southern Idaho.
As with Hiatt, we will just have to wait and see. Perhaps the duo will be able to team up once again, if the stars align.