Richfield • Panguitch girls’ basketball coach Curtis Barney is an often soft-spoken guy who seems to love teaching the game in the gym as much as being in the spotlight during a state title game.
He is intense but polite and seems to enjoy the strategy that makes coaching fun as much as the winning. He is patient but demanding. In a town with 1,520 residents, Barney even has managed to coach a few girls into Division I basketball scholarships.
The guy few outside of small-town Utah gyms even know became part of Utah history Saturday night as his Bobcats defeated plucky Milford 61-56 to win their fourth Class 1A girls’ basketball state crown in five years.
Using a lineup with only one senior, Barney won his 11th state title, tying him with Mountain View’s Dave Houle as the coaches who have won the most Utah hoops titles.
He and his players were not aware of that fact.
Lone senior Jordan Bennett did not know it. Barney said he’d heard something about a Mountain View coach but really didn’t know he might tie it Saturday.
This had to be one of the most difficult titles. Like a cat with nine lives, Milford’s Tigers would not die.
Panguitch, which prides itself on defense, looked like it had a safe 11-point lead at the end of three quarters. But Milford’s Presley Barton hit three ridiculous shots, including a 3-pointer from NBA range, to tie it at 40-40.
At that point, it got wild. Every time the Bobcats looked safe, Elena Yee, Milford’s lone and outstanding senior, did something amazing. She tied it with a 3-pointer with less than a minute left and kept hounding the Bobcats for turnovers.
In the end, it was Bennett’s 3-pointer with 40 seconds to play that probably sealed the victory.
“I was hoping and praying I could hit it,” she said. “It felt really good when it came out of my hand.”
And 10 straight days of free-throw practice paid off late as Panguitch hit 26 of 33, many down the stretch.
Milford coach Mallory Bailey, who is expecting a baby in three weeks, thought her team might do it.
“Some nerves got to us, I think,” she said with tears in her eyes.
Asked about his legacy, Barney said that at this point in a long career, every title is special.
“I’m starting to get grandkids the age when they are competing in things,” he said. “Sometimes you have to turn the baton over. It’s getting closer. But when you end like this, you really don’t want to retire yet.”
Was this the most difficult of Barney’s 11 state titles?
“No,” he smiled. “But it feels like it right now. As old as I am, my ticker felt like it was the hardest one.”