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Prep girls basketball: Skyhawks pull away from upset-minded Royals in 4th quarter

TAYLORSVILLE — Three-fourths of the way through Tuesday's 4A girls state tournament opener, an upset-minded Roy High team was giving heavily favored Salem Hills all it could handle.

The Royals, with just six wins this season and a fourth-place finish in Region 5, took a one-point lead early in the third quarter and trailed by just one, 29-28, entering the final period.

But just when it looked like Roy might shock the Utah prep basketball world, that's when the Skyhawks, this year's Region 8 champions, came to life.

Senior guard Abbie Tuttle sparked a 10-0 run to start the fourth quarter and Salem Hills went on to a 43-34 victory at Salt Lake Community College's Lifetime Activities Center.

"They were a lot better than we expected, and they're big — they're a lot bigger than we are," Tuttle said of the Royals. "But we outran them at the end. We just kept running the ball and pushing it.

"I think it took us awhile to warm up. We did what we could do. … We didn't play as well as we usually do. I think we were nervous, but after we went on our run, I think we were good. We relaxed and played like we do."

What they do is win, their 12th in a row and 18th in their last 19 games, as the Skyhawks (21-3) advance to Thursday's 4A tourney quarterfinals against Mountain View, which turned back Highland 54-47 in Tuesday's first game.

Senior guard Tiffany Madson and junior guard JaneAshley Nelson scored 11 points apiece for the Skyhawks, while freshman forward Lauren Gustin added 10 and Tuttle finished with eight — six of them coming in the Skyhawks' decisive fourth-quarter surge.

"I just think we finally started playing like we do," Madson said of the Skyhawks' better-late-than-never spurt. "We finally realized it was another game and we're a good team.

"We probably should've pushed the ball more early because they were so much bigger than us. We should've pushed it like we did at the end.

"We just need to relax a little bit," Madson said. "Now we've got that first one out of the way, we just need to push the ball and play like we always do."

For Roy (6-15), senior center Shelby Harvey had a game-high 15 points, while senior Kelsey Harvey, junior Katie Bloxham, sophomore Sariah Jones and promising 6-foot-4 freshman Josie Williams each played vital roles in helping keep the underdog Royals within striking distance of what would've been a monumental upset.

"That definitely was a concern," Salem Hills coach Kyle Francom said of his team possibly overlooking the Royals. "I think there definitely was a subconscious letdown over the stigma of (playing) a six-win team.

"But that's a good team. They've got a lot of size, a lot of length, and they can shoot the ball. We saw them on film, but they moved better and were more athletic than we thought they were going to be. We thought they'd be tough and we knew they had size, but their athleticism kind of surprised us.

"I'm still trying to process why we got off to such a slow start," he said. "I thought the start of the fourth quarter was really the only time we were playing the way we expect to play.

"We gave up too many offensive rebounds and we didn't shoot the ball particularly well. … The first half especially, we were playing a little tight, dropping passes, mishandling the ball, and we missed some layups and transition baskets we usually make. Hopefully, we can get off to a better start Thursday."

Shelby Harvey had six points and Kelsey Harvey scored off a steal in an 8-0 run that staked the Royals to an 8-4 lead before Gustin got back-to-back buckets and Madson scored on a layup off a steal to put Salem Hills ahead 10-8 at the end of the first quarter.

A couple of quick baskets by Williams and a drive by Jones lifted Roy into a 14-12 lead early in the second quarter. Then Madson fueled a 9-0 run to give the Skyhawks a seven-point spread, 21-14, before Williams and Shelby Harvey each lit the scoreboard to pull the Royals back within 21-18 at halftime.

Two more baskets by Shelby Harvey and a coast-to-coast layup by Jones pushed Roy on top 24-23 early in the third period, but Madson's 3-point play helped Salem Hills score the last six points of the period and grab a 29-28 edge entering the fourth.

Then baskets by Madson and Nelson started the Skyhawks' game-changing run, and Tuttle scored six straight points to make it 39-28 with 3:51 remaining in the game. Roy managed to trim the deficit to eight, 39-31, before Gustin scored inside and Madson drove the baseline for a reverse layup to essentially seal the deal.