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Richfield rallies to quash Beaver’s hopes

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DELTA — After an uncharacteristic subpar season, many coaches figured Beaver's five-year stranglehold on the 2A title was in jeopardy at this year's state tournament. Few would've predicted, however, that a No. 5 seed would be the team breaking up the dynasty.

Despite the seemingly insurmountable task, Richfield coach Marc Peterson knew his team was resilient enough to get the job done.

Facing a seven-point fourth quarter deficit, Richfield used a 10-0 run late in the game to rally past Beaver for the surprising 45-42 victory in the opening round of the 2A tournament at Delta High School.

"Our girls, they just had the heart and determination," said Peterson. "I think having played in our region against tough teams, the South Seviers, the Mantis, the North Seviers, that prepared us for a game like this."

Nonetheless, as the game wore on, it just seemed like Richfield was missing the confident swagger that Beaver seemed to flex on every possession.

The turning point came with about four minutes remaining. With her team trailing 40-35, Richfield's Amber Lajeunesse buried a critical 3-pointer that changed the entire complexion of the game.

"She's a senior, and every time we've needed a 3-pointer, she's stepped up and hit it for us this year," said Peterson.

After cutting the deficit to 40-38, the Wildcats proceeded to score on their next three possessions to take a 43-40 lead with 1:08 remaining.

Beaver, meanwhile, picked the worst time to go into a shooting funk as it missed its final eight field-goal attempts.

Despite their struggles, after Lajeunesse made just 1-of-2 free throws with 14 seconds remaining, the Beavers only trailed by three, and had one more opportunity to keep the dynasty alive. Richfield thwarted that possibility with a last-second blocked shot.

"They didn't have the greatest year, and if there was ever a good time to match up with Beaver, this was the year," said Peterson. "They're still a great team, and we had to play great to beat them."

Lajeunesse finished with a game-high 11 points on three 3-pointers, while Richfield's other four starters accounted for all but three of the Wildcats' remaining points.

While Peterson was pleased with his team's offensive production, he believes defense was the key. Coming into the game, Beaver's Morgan Wood was one of the top scorers in 2A, and it was critical that Richfield slowed her down.

"I think defensively, we just all went in with the attitude that we were going to help each other , and I think that was our spark," said Peterson.

Wood still finished with 16 points, one above her season average, but the Wildcats made sure she didn't go off.

With the win, Richfield (7-14) advances to next Thursday's quarterfinals at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield to face Region 12 rival San Juan (11-9). The region foes split their season series this year.

E-mail: jedward@desnews.com