DRAPER — Experience can be an excellent teacher.
Just ask the girls on the Juan Diego basketball team, who watched their only two seniors pull the team back from an early double-digit deficit and on to the second round of the 3A state tournament with a 51-42 win over Delta on Friday night.
The Rabbits opened the game on fire behind the play of leading scorer Kaity Diaz, who tallied 12 of the team's 19 first-quarter points. Delta pushed the gap to 13 before junior Natalie Baczuk hit a layup at the buzzer to pull Juan Diego within 11 and recapture some of the game's momentum.
"A lot of nerves, that's what that was," said Juan Diego head coach Ashlee McKray. "Only two of our girls have ever been to the state tournament, so it took some time for them to settle down and play."
Once they had settled down, the Soaring Eagle ran a much more controlled offense and drew two quick fouls on Diaz, sending her to the bench for much of the second period. Juan Diego took advantage of the scoring opportunities with the Rabbits' big defender out of the way, opening up a 10-2 run before Delta coach Kurtis Topham was forced to put his star back on the court.
Senior Brittney Coffer took over just before half, scoring eight of her 14 points in the period, including a 3-point play with 43 seconds left and another buzzer-beater that sufficiently stole all of the momentum from the Rabbits heading into halftime.
"She hasn't been able to play a lot since her knee surgery in January, so she's been anxious to play," McKray said of Coffer. "We've been trying to get her leg strong so she could, and she just stepped up for the challenge tonight. She's a senior and had never been to state. She really wanted to leave everything on the court."
It was senior Kulia Wilson's turn to take over in the third quarter, scoring seven of her 13 points in the period and matching Delta shot-for-shot to keep the game within one point despite another outburst from Diaz, who added another eight points to her total of 20, including draining two 3-pointers.
"We knew Diaz would shoot well from outside," McKray said. "We were trying to do the best we could to challenge that."
It wasn't until 7:45 left that Juan Diego took the lead for the first time in the game with a jumper from Lauren Tigue. They traded baskets with Delta over the next four minutes before Diaz fouled out and Camille Tua hit two free throws to put the Soaring Eagle on top for good.
"The struggles the girls went through last year as a team, they deserve this," McKray said of the team the won just three games last season. "The girls have worked really hard and they deserve all the credit in the world, and I'm so glad that they've gotten to this point."
The Soaring Eagle, now 17-5 on the season, advance to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2004, when they lost to South Sevier in overtime. This time, Juan Diego will meet up with Canyon View at the McKay Events Center at UVU at 4:10 p.m. on Thursday.