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High school girls basketball: Skyline earns second straight trip to 4A championship behind defensive effort

TAYLORSVILLE — Freshman Madison Grange was mobbed by her teammates after hitting a 3-pointer just before the final buzzer.

The points didn’t decide the 4A semifinal game.

But the fact that Grange was on the floor to even take the shot mattered a great deal to the entire Skyline squad.

“We love our freshman,” said senior Hillary Weixler after the fifth-ranked Eagles ended Maple Mountain’s Cinderella run in the 4A tournament with a 56-39 victory at Salt Lake Community College. “We just decided we’re not going to let this be close. We’re done with close games, with the close calls. We really wanted to push our offense and defense more.”

The Eagles did that in the third quarter when they outscored Maple Mountain 25-7. Before that, the game was tight with Skyline leading 18-13. While the Eagles' offense really came alive in the second half, their defense was effective the entire game.

The centerpiece of the Eagles’ defensive plan was senior Olivia Elliss’ ability to hold one of the state’s leading scorers, Liz Eaton, in check.

“My thought was, ‘I’m not going to let her score,’ ” said Elliss, who did just that in the first half. Eaton finished with nine points, but just a single field goal, with some of those coming against Skyline’s younger players late in the game. Eaton averages just over 23 points per game.

“It just feels really good, but it wasn’t just me,” Elliss said. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. My coaches, they always push defense. Without them, I couldn’t have done it.” Elliss said her coaches gave her some tips about how to slow Eaton.

“Play the drive,” Elliss said. “She’ll shoot, but she’ll look to drive first. So that’s what I did.”

Skyline head coach Lynette Schroeder said being able to put her younger and less experienced players into the game in the third quarter was a nice change.

Not only did it give the younger players experience, it allowed her starters to get some rest that they’ll undoubtedly need when they face top-ranked, unbeaten Sky View at 11 a.m. Saturday in the 4A state championship.

Schroeder smiled when asked about Elliss’ defense on Eaton.

“I don’t know if she’s ever not had points in the first half, but that’s Oliva,” Schroeder said. “She’s just a solid defender. And she can guard a guard or a post, that’s why I put her on Liz.”

It wasn’t just Elliss who played solid defense, it was the entire Skyline squad. No Maple Mountain player reached double digits or rebounds with Eaton, MiKayla Hubbard and Elisabeth Eastmond all scoring nine points each in the loss. Skyline outrebounded Maple Mountain 40-30.

Schroeder said she didn’t give her team any special instructions about contending with the Golden Eagles, who knocked off second-ranked, unbeaten Bountiful on Thursday.

“Just go and play Skyline basketball,” she said. “Liv, stay on No. 5. That was our game plan.”

One huge difference in the third quarter was Skyline’s ability to score in the paint. That’s something they deliberately tried to do in hopes it would allow them to pull away from Maple Mountain.

“We had size over them, so we just talked about getting the ball to the inside, whether it was attacking or a pass inside,” Schroeder said. “We did that in the third quarter.”

The coach said her team may have been nervous to start the game, despite having experienced the pressure of making it to the championship game last season.

“I think they were nervous at first, definitely,” Schroeder said. “But as the game went on, they started to play basketball.”

When asked what it would take for the Eagles to beat a team like Sky View, which defeated Mountain View 65-45 earlier Friday, she smiled.

“A lot,” she said. “Our best game.” There is no mystery about what Elliss’ defensive assignment will be Saturday — another of the state’s leading scorers, Lindsey Jensen, who had 22 points in the Bobcats’ semifinal win.

Weixler said the team isn’t worried about what Sky View does well. She’ll leave strategy to her coaches.

“We’ve been in the championship before,” said Weixler, who finished with eight points and seven rebounds. Teammate Laurel Tomlinson added 10 points and three rebounds. “We know what it’s like, we know the situations; anything can happen. We’re just ready to come out as the defensive-minded team that we are and just show well.”

Twitter: adonsports; EMAIL: adonaldson@deseretnews.com