TAYLORSVILLE — American Fork sophomore Jenna Shepherd had been dreaming about it for a long time. Friday, that dream became a reality.
With 3.2 seconds remaining in the game, and her team down 44-43 to Alta, Shepherd received the ball on the far wing well behind the 3-point arc. After fumbling the ball initially, she regained possession in time to release the ball as time expired.
Her teammates rushed the court in frenzied jubilation — tackling the young sophomore for putting the finishing touch on a 5A state tournament final berth.
“This is the most unbelievable feeling I’ve ever felt,” Shepherd said surrounded by media postgame. “I’ve dreamed about this forever, and now to be in it is just awesome.”
Shepherd’s last-second heroics didn’t come without some help, and she was quick to mention the fact. "It took the entire team to win this," she said.
Playing a big role with two plays that won’t appear in the box score was Maile Richardson.
Richardson’s first big play came after a would-be game-tying foul shot with just under three seconds remaining glanced off the rim. The junior forward crashed the boards hard — forcing Alta to hit the ball out of bounds to give her team one final chance.
With no timeouts remaining, the Cavemen in-bounded the ball to Shepherd, who gained some shooting space after being freed up by a Richardson screen. It was just enough space to get off the final shot.
“Everyone is going to remember the shot, but not everyone — except for coaches — is going to remember that effort play,” said American Fork coach Corey Clayton.
“I couldn’t have done it without my team,” Shepherd added.
As for her final shot, it all still seemed a little too good to be true after the fact.
“I couldn’t even see it and I can‘t even remember if it went in or not,” she said. “I still think now, ‘oh, my gosh, that went in.’ ”
It’s the type of shot many dream about but few can execute on a stage as big as the 5A state semifinals. Fortunately for the young sophomore guard, she had a lot of practice on her side along with some much-needed youth.
“I’ve practiced that shot so many times,” she said. “I was just thinking that we need this shot, so I just tried to get my man off me a bit and hit up the shot.”
As for the youth aspect helping the shot?
“Absolutely. There‘s no doubt about it,” Clayton affirmed. “You don’t realize what you’re doing, and it’s good. If I could figure out how to make seniors feel that way, we’d be in business.”
As for the game as a whole, it was close throughout.
Neither team enjoyed more than a four-point lead as leads were traded throughout. Alta managed to take the lead early in the fourth and maintained that lead until Shepherd’s last-second shot.
“I thought both teams did some really good things and both teams hit some clutch shots,” Clayton said. “We had some mistakes … but we’re young, so our players can handle that and play really loose. It was just a great game. If you want to see what high school basketball is at a girl’s level, that was a great game to see.”
Shepherd led the Cavemen with a game-high 18 points, three 3-pointers and five steals. The Hawks were led by freshman Mariah Martin and her team-high 13 points.
With the win, American Fork advances to the finals, where it will take on Fremont Saturday at Salt Lake Community College.