RICHFIELD — For three quarters, the semifinal showdown between unbeaten Piute and two-time defending champ Rich at the 1A girls basketball tournament was the intensely tight affair that many predicted it would be.
Then Piute started to attack, and boy, did they ever attack.
Relentless with a lethal full-court press on defense and precise with the way in which they executed on offense, the Thunderbirds quite simply overwhelmed a shell-shocked bunch from Rich.
With the game tied at 24-24 early in the fourth quarter, Piute ripped off a stellar 17-2 run to pull away and oust the defending champs, 41-29, on Friday at the Sevier Valley Center.
"We love running," Piute guard Loni Allan said of the frenetic pace at which the T-Birds played in the fourth. "That may sound weird for a team, but we love to run and just get people scared. When they get that scared look on their face, we just go crazy."
Rich's outstanding players, for all the tremendous success they're enjoyed in recent seasons, definitely got that scared look on their faces down the stretch Friday, and Piute's players definitely went crazy to bust open what had been an intensely close battle.
Piute and Rich traded small leads throughout, and just 42 seconds into the fourth quarter, Rich guard Shantae Brown drained a 3-pointer to tie the game at 24-24.
But it was all Piute the rest of the way.
Brown made another 3-pointer with 18 seconds left in the game, but in between her two long-range bombs, Piute won the game with a 17-2 run.
Defensively, Piute's full-court press wreaked havoc on the Rebels and caused a number of Rich turnovers. Offensively, the T-Birds started to attack Rich's zone and exploited all the holes in it.
"I told them, 'Hey, let's start attacking their zone,'" said Piute coach Wade Westwood. "And when we attacked, we found ourselves makin' foul shots and some easy little shots. And finally we decided to hit the attack button."
Allan, Piute's point guard, was a key figure in that regard. Down the stretch, she frequently found the holes in Rich's defense and either scored herself — she had six points in the fourth — or helped set up opportunities for others.
And when given opportunities, Allan's teammates were all stellar. Star guard Kandice Gleave made plays, star forward Amanda Bagley made plays and the supporting cast, especially junior guard Megan Jensen, all rose to the occasion.
Allan finished with 13 points, Gleave had 12, Bagley had nine and Jensen added seven to complete Piute's scoring. Ashley Argyle had 14 points to lead Rich.
"These guys stay level-headed," Westwood said of his players. "They're good under pressure, they don't get nervous, they don't force stuff and I think the big thing is they trust each other and they work as a team."
And now they're headed to the state title game, where they'll face Duchesne inside the Sevier Valley Center at 5 tonight. Neither school has won a state title in girls basketball before, and for Piute, the T-Birds are thrilled to have gotten to the championship game with a senior-laden group that has come close on several occasions before this year.
"I can't even describe how much this means to us," said Allan. "We've been working at this since we were kids. This is what we dreamed of doing since we were little, so it's a big deal for us."