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High school basketball: Salem Hills clinches share of Region 8 title

SALEM — Riding a wave of success into Wednesday night's game, Salem Hills used the energy of a packed gym to come away with a 45-43 win over rival Payson in the teams' last regular season game of the year.

The SkyHawks (11-10, 7-3) held a 31-21 lead early in the second half and looked like they had the game under control, but Payson's combination of B.J. Ford, Colton Jewett and Braden Wright led the Lions on a 12-0 run to claim their first lead of the game.

"We went into halftime and talked about the pressure Payson was going to put on us," Salem Hills coach Jimmy DeGraffenried said. "We knew they were going to come out strong, so it didn't surprise us. We looked a little bit tense in the third quarter, but after they took the lead I felt like my guys didn't lose their composure. They believed in what we were doing and they played well when it counted."

Salem Hills put the game on the shoulders of its two star players — London Simonson and Jake Skinner — who each stole the show for a half. Simonson dominated in the first half, when he scored 16 of his 19 points. He made four 3-pointers, banking in one as the first quarter ended then hitting another in-then-out-then-in-again trey just before halftime. The junior also knifed through traffic to score on two coast-to-coast left-handed layups.

Skinner picked up the slack in the second half, overcoming early foul trouble to score 13 of his 18 points after the break. He scored the SkyHawks' last 11 points, including a layup that gave Salem Hills a 44-43 lead with less than 30 seconds left.

"I thought London really did a good job for us in the first half," DeGraffenried said. "He made a bunch a plays early that gave us the lead and really got the crowd into it. And then Jake hit some big shots for us down the stretch. Those guys are probably the most visible players, but it was a great team win."

Payson (13-8, 6-4) had several chances in the fourth quarter to stretch its lead, but came up short each time. Jewett led the Lions with 14 points, while Braden Wright finished with 11. Ford finished with nine points and made some tough shots while being hounded by Salem Hills' Tyler Harding, but he also forced up a few off-balance threes that didn't go in.

Clint Bateman also finished with nine points for Payson, but he missed the front end of two one-and-ones from the free-throw line in the last minute.

With those, he missed the opportunity to put Salem Hills away.

The victory gives Salem Hills a share of the Region 8 title with Springville, the SkyHawks' second straight region title. Salem Hills has now won six consecutive games leading up to the state playoffs. As students swarmed the court and the team cut down the net in celebration, Simonson was already looking forward to the next game.

"It was amazing. There's no better feeling than coming out on top in a close game, especially our last home game where the crowd was so into it," he said. "We feel like we're on top of things. We've worked hard and have built up a lot of momentum at the right time of year. We're playing well and I think we're ready for the playoffs."