McCAMMON -- Brittan Bergholm took two dribbles and whipped a pass with such zip and precision it would make any quarterback in the Gem State jealous.
Soda Springs forward Wade Sims caught the dart at the opposite free-throw line. There wasn’t a soul within 10 feet of the junior. With a running start, Sims bent his knees and extended his arms as high above his 6-foot-3 frame as possible. His fingertips hit the rim and the basketball spun around the rim and flopped out.
Some people gasped. Others, including Sims, just laughed at the dunk attempt gone awry. The score made it easier to smile about. A few seconds later, the buzzer sounded on the Cardinals’ 64-52 win at Marsh Valley.
2A Soda Springs overcame an early deficit and outscored the 3A Eagles 39-25 in the second and third quarters. Brittan Bergholm led all scorers with 23 while Marsh Valley’s Stanton Howell, another impressive local guard, netted 17 points.
“That’s a great team over there,” Soda Springs coach Greg Bergholm said. “We’ve played good this year, but we’ve just been so close. Our average loss is like three or four points and we’ve had trouble finishing some games.”
“Tonight, finally, they just gelled as a team.”
To understand what a harmonizing Cardinals’ team looks like, their biggest players are the most important tell. Sims and 6-foot-7 Hayden McWilliams are not the stiff, immobile players that most think of when they hear of young big men. They’re big, but they move like guards. They don’t make dumb passes. They understand spacing. And they don’t stop running.
At least they didn’t on Thursday, which is why the Cardinals looked so good.
Greg Bergholm runs an offense not replicated by many in high school basketball -- the high-low scheme. Basically, the two forwards on the floor just flip-flop from the block and the top of the key. One goes up to set a screen, the other trickles down to the baseline. One drives to the lane, the other backs out to the 3-point line. Rinse. Repeat.
Because Sims and McWilliams -- who both scored 15 points on Thursday -- are versatile athletes, they can both do damage from either spot. And the constant movement often confuses opposing defenders, who lose their man and give up a wide-open layup.
“It’s really hard to defend,” Greg Bergholm said. “When those two (Sims and McWilliams) start to gel together and use each other and feed off each other, we’re going to be hard to beat. Especially in our league, because there’s not a lot of big kids.”
So, why don’t more teams use the high-low offense? Well, it’s not the easiest thing to perfect.
Said McWilliams: “You just have to focus and make the passes and right decisions at the right time.”
Just perfect passes, perfect instincts and perfect timing. Yep, that’s it.
For Soda Springs, the challenge of grasping an offense that complex only grows because low enrollment forces its varsity team to practice against the junior varsity squad. So Sims and McWilliams have to make a college-to-pro level adjustment and still make sure they’re on the same wavelength. When it works, like it did Thursday, it’s easy to forget that it can be a clutter when done wrong.
“It’s tough to learn,” Greg Bergholm said. “We have hour-and-a-half practices and try to get the kids as many shots as you can, teach them an offense and then rep that offense over and over and over again.”
The velcro that keeps everything meshing is Brittan Bergholm. The 6-foot-2 senior is one of the best ball-handlers in the area, a high-IQ point guard who is so confident in his abilities that lane traffic or grabby defenders hardly shake him. He keeps his head up and understands his arsenal of moves, knowing when to pull out a crossover and whip the ball behind his back.
And he’s an active distributor, feeding Sims and McWilliams easy buckets while they operate the complicated high-low.
“You can always depend on him,” McWilliams said. “He notices where the ball needs to go at the right time. He’s just a great decision-maker.”
Added Greg Bergholm: “He’s a coach on the floor. I don’t have to holler out a single thing. He just gets it. It doesn’t happen very often.”
The combination of Brittan Bergholm, Sims and McWilliams gives Soda Springs real hopes of making its first state tournament since 2016. The Cardinals will be fighting with Bear Lake, Malad and West Side for the two state spots out of 2A District 5.
“I really do (think we have the team to make it)," Greg Bergholm said.
Soda Springs (6-4) hosts West Side on Thursday at 7 p.m.
Marsh Valley (9-3) travels to South Fremont on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.
SODA SPRINGS 64, MARSH VALLEY 52
Soda Springs 11 21 18 14 — 64
Marsh Valley 15 16 9 12 — 52
Soda Springs — Bergholm 23, McWilliams 15, Sims 15, Hansen 6, Yamauchi 3, McCullough 2.
Marsh Valley — S. Howell 17, Bissell 12, K. Howell 9, M. Belnap 5, B. Howell 5, Howe 4.