BIG PINEY – The Punchers girls’ basketball team entered the fourth quarter against Moorcroft trailing by 12 points. During the consolation semifinals at the 2A State Girls’ Basketball Championships, Moorcroft established a big lead in the second and third quarters.
The Lady Wolves, No. 1 in the Northeast Quadrant and boasting an undefeated conference record coming into State, were poised to win.
True to Puncher form, the Big Piney girls’ basketball team was not about to go down without a fight. The Punchers stepped up the intensity and outscored their enemy, 22-10, in the fourth quarter.
Senior Cassidy Espenscheid led the Puncher charge offensively with 10 points, including a 3-pointer that closed the gap to two points.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Punchers tied the Lady Wolves, 47-47, and fought their way through two overtimes for the win, 63-59.
“Going into the game, we didn’t really have high hopes of winning,” said Espenscheid. “If we would have lost, it would have been the last game for the senior class. We were kind of getting down on ourselves a little bit. Then we came back and ended up winning. It was one of the best feelings ever to have accomplished that.”
The girls’ basketball team traveled a long, rough road to make it to State in 2021 and upset Moorcroft. Three seasons ago, Espenscheid and her teammates, primarily sophomores and juniors, struggled to win a single game in a 3A field stacked with experienced seniors.
The Punchers put in a significant amount of blood, sweat and tears over the next two years to come together and make a strong showing this season, beating 2A and 3A and punching their ticket to State.
“We’ve had some rough years, and to be able to make it to State was a dream come true because the girls’ basketball team hasn’t made it (to State) since 2002,” Espenscheid said. “The last couple of years, we’ve lost a lot of games, so we definitely know how it feels to lose. We were always disappointed when we lost, but in a way, we kind of got used to it. When we were down by 15 points, we thought if we lose the game, oh well, it’s happened before. But then we started thinking if we come back and win, that would be cool. We never really gave up and just came back and fought to the very last second.”
Espenscheid credited her teammates for keeping the momentum going through tough seasons.
“We’ve been playing together since elementary school,” she said. “We just stuck together and got through it and it definitely paid off in the end.”
The Wyoming Coaches Association honored Espenscheid with All-State honors this season, the first year that the senior received the prestigious honor.
“I’ve been playing basketball my entire life and it feels like all of my hard work has paid off and this is a big reward,” she said. “It feels really good.”
Battling to the top
Espenscheid cannot remember the exact moment she stepped onto the basketball court for the first time.
“I’ve been playing for as long as I can remember, since I was a little kid. My dad (Brian Espenscheid) was the coach, so he was definitely the one that got me into it. I can just remember always going to the open gym with all the boys and my cousins. I just stuck with it since then.”
Basketball clicked with Espenscheid and she played for the local Junior Jazz team in elementary school and joined the Big Piney Middle School girls’ basketball team. In ninth grade, Espenscheid signed onto the Puncher girls’ basketball team and never looked back.
“Basketball is a really fun sport and I love being out there with my teammates, who are also some of my best friends, so that really makes it worthwhile,” she said.
The team hit the court running this season. The Punchers nearly unseated top-ranked 3A Lyman on Feb. 5, coming within one possession of winning. The Big Piney girls also gave 3A powerhouse Mountain View a run for its money on Feb. 5, falling by only two possessions.
The Pinedale game on Jan. 14 stood out in Espenscheid’s memory. The Punchers came within five points of beating their cross-county rival.
“It was just a really fun game,” Espenscheid said. “We ended up losing, but the score was really close. Over the past two years, Pinedale has kicked our butts. We all played really well together and that was one of our best games of the season.”
When Espenscheid is not busy practicing basketball, she competes on the rodeo team and participates in 4-H and the National Honor Society. Espenscheid hopes to attend Sheridan College or Casper College next year and get a degree in exercise science before possibly continuing her studies at a physical therapy school. She is not sure whether she wants to play basketball in college, but dreams of coaching the sport in the future.
Espenscheid thanked her teammates, cheerleaders, Joan Mitchell for taking photographs and the community for their support over the years. She also gave a shoutout to BPHS alumni Shelby Hatch.
“Shelby has been one of my best friends my entire life and she’s one of the reasons I’ve been playing basketball this long. She’s pushed me along the way to get better.”