TAYLORSVILLE — It wasn't just another tough Region 4 contest, even though it might have looked that way to an outsider.
No, this battle between region champ American Fork Cavemen and the No. 4 seed Pleasant Grove Vikings was for a shot at the state title.
The two teams met for the third time this season with everything on the line, and though they'd lost two previous meetings with the Cavemen, the Vikings put it all together and did everything that was asked of them when it counted the most — in the 5A state semifinals.
It's been a long time since the Vikings have defeated the Cavemen, and Pleasant Grove coach Glenn Larson was glad his team had taken American Fork to overtime in their last meeting so his girls would have the confidence they needed to beat a team that's had their number for so long.
And through the first quarter it appeared the game might just go into overtime again, as the two teams were tied after one. But that was when Pleasant Grove took control and came out with winning on its mind, finally finishing off the upset with a 58-44 victory and a trip to the state championship game against Syracuse today at 11 a.m.
"They've won the state championship, and we haven't beaten them for a long time, but we believed we could beat them. We just had to remember to take care of the ball after we got the big lead," said Larson, who's now busily putting together a game plan for Syracuse.
"We've found that American Fork struggled against our zone. We stuck with it and it worked. They didn't get many inside shots," Larson added.
The Vikings built as much as a 23-point lead close to the end of the third quarter, but they knew the Cavemen would have a run in them and just had to withstand the pressure and not give the ball away.
"They're a team that can always come back, and it was a good thing that we had a big lead. We just kept thinking we couldn't let them come back against us like they did the last time," said floor leader Danyele Hoffman, who finished with 15 points, eight assists, three steals and a pair of treys.
The Cavemen did make their big comeback push in the fourth period and brought the score to within 55-44 when Amy Krommenhoek popped in her third 3-pointer of the game, but they couldn't manage anything else and watched Pleasant Grove pull away to victory.
"It's a good thing we're in a hard region. If not, we wouldn't have been ready for this," said BYU-bound, 6-foot-6 center Jennifer Hamson, who finished with 16 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks despite being keyed on most of the night.
"Once again they tried to stop Jen, and the other girls stepped up," said Larson.
The Pleasant Grove team didn't look like it was ready to rest on its laurels after pulling off the huge upset against last year's defending champs, though. They want a shot at No. 1 Syracuse and an elusive state title. They've only been to the title match once in their history, in the mid-'90s, and haven't come away with a championship ever, giving the Pleasant Grove girls plenty of incentive to continue the momentum they've been building through the playoffs right into the championship game against Syracuse.
"They're a really good team, but we're looking forward to playing them," said Hoffman.
And her coach tends to think his squad has a shot at the undefeated team it will go against for the title.
"Last year in the quarterfinals, they beat us by one. We had a lead, then turned the ball over, and they came back to beat us," said Larson, who once again is going to stress to his team just how important it is for them to hold onto the basketball and play their game.
The entire Pleasant Grove team had its hands in the game against the Cavemen, as Rebecca Clement finished with 10 points and two steals. Kourtney Dinehart added seven and Mackenzie Larson finished with six. The Vikings shot over 50 percent in the victory.
They also held the Cavemen to only 23 percent from the field. Grace Farnsworth led American Fork with 11 points. Krommenhoek added 10, and Laini Kalumbi finished with nine points and three assists.