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High school girls basketball: Pep talk and defensive change help No. 1 Riverton best 5th-ranked Viewmont

TAYLORSVILLE — Riverton coach Ron Ence doesn’t usually ask his players to run a zone defense.

But after Viewmont standout Katie Toole scored 16 points against the Silverwolves in the first half of Wednesday’s 5A quarterfinal, he decided something out of the ordinary might be the only way to slow the future Utah State athlete.

“Their ace versus our five-of-a-kind,” Ence said after Riverton earned a trip to the 5A semifinals with a 52-46 victory at Salt Lake Community College. “Katie Toole is probably the best catch-and-shoot girl in the state of Utah that I’ve seen.”

So after Toole scored all but eight of Viewmont’s first-half points, Ence made some adjustments.

“Late in the game, we tried a little bit of zone, which is uncharacteristic of us, but hoping maybe to turn that momentum. ... That was basically it.” He also gave a spirited halftime plea for better defense and more committed rebounding — something he said he focuses on every game.

“It’s gotta be one shot,” he said. “I told them, ‘Toole’s going to get hers, but for heaven sake, no one else better.’” Toole left the game with five fouls with just about a minute left in the game after scoring 26 points, grabbing seven rebounds and blocking three shots.

Riverton’s offensive effort was led by Tiena Afu, who scored 13 points, and Kirsten Spencer, who added 10 points. Ence said he didn’t mince words as he reminded the top-ranked Silverwolves, who've played in the last seven of eight 5A quarterfinals, what was on the line.

“I yelled at them at halftime," he said. "And they took it with ... a spoonful of sugar and went out and played better in the second half.” Afu said the players knew they needed to play the kind of basketball that helped them earn a co-region title with American Fork.

“In the first half, we weren’t executing our plays very well,” Afu said. “We weren’t working as a team. We needed to do better and play ball like we know how.”

Tia Yazzie, who finished with seven points and four rebounds, said they made a few mental adjustments after Ence’s halftime pep talk.

“We wanted to show them our best,” Yazzie said. “They didn’t see that the first half. We wanted to show them what we had. We talked about it at halftime. Our motivation changed, our head changed. We had to go out there and play as a team.”

Viewmont’s press seemed to rattle the Silverwolves in the first half, and the Vikings outrebounded Riverton 34-19 in the game. Leading that rebounding effort was guard Darbi Ferrell, who finished with 10 boards.

Freshman Mercedes Staples was also tough to stop offensively with 14 points and four assists. In the end, it was Riverton’s foul shooting that helped the Silverwolves hang onto their lead, which ranged from two to eight points in the final minutes.

“I don’t really think about them when I’m shooting them,” said Kirsten Spencer, who scored six of her 10 points from the free-throw line in the game’s waning minutes. “I just shoot the ball. I don’t really think about it until later and then it’s like, ‘That was a big deal.’”

The Silverwolves will play co-Region 3 champion Brighton at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The Bengals defeated Layton 50-46 Wednesday.

Ence was proud his team, which wasn’t on most preseason favorite lists, earned a spot in Friday’s semifinal. But he was overjoyed for the players who worked so hard to have this moment.

“What a great game,” he said. “I’m so excited for these girls. They’re so fun to coach.”

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