TAYLORSVILLE — After coming up short in the state playoffs in each of the last three years, Bountiful star Kennedy Redding has done everything in her power this season to get her team to the 4A state championship.
And it has finally paid off.
Following two monstrous performances in the Braves' first-round and quarterfinal wins — in which she averaged 25.5 points and 12.5 rebounds per game — the star power forward continued her dominant play with a 20-point, 14-rebound and four-block performance Friday afternoon to help edge Salem Hills 59-51 and advance to the 4A state title game for the first time in her high-school career.
“It just kind of hasn’t hit me yet. I don’t think so anyway — I don’t really know. I’m just really excited to be here, you know? It’ll be really fun to see who we play in the championship — I’m just really excited,” Redding said.
Bountiful came out and established an early rhythm with its tremendous inside-out game to get Redding rolling and put the visitors on their heels.
In a tough matchup against Salem Hills' Lauren Gustin, the much-taller Redding used her length and athleticism to find the net, take Gustin out of the game with two quick fouls and help spark her team to a comfortable 24-6 lead midway through the first half.
“Honestly, that’s what our goal was. We wanted to make her guard Kennedy and try to get her out of the game. We didn’t think she could guard her very effectively without getting into foul trouble, so that was huge for us,” Bountiful head coach Joel Burton said.
However, after heading to the bench for a quick breather, the Skyhawks fired back with a 9-0 run of their own to gain some ground and cut their deficit to 12 points (29-17) at the break.
And, with Gustin no longer in foul trouble and back on the court in the third quarter, they didn't stop there.
Salem Hills rallied behind the play of Gustin and her cousin, Jane Nelson, to get within striking distance down 10 heading into the fourth quarter. They combined for 31 points in the loss.
“She’s (Gustin) a really good player and was really fun to play against. She always puts out her best effort and she’s just a really good player. It was really fun to play against her — she was great on offense,” Redding said.
Gustin and Nelson really turned up the heat in the final eight minutes and capitalized off some big plays to bring it to within just three points (52-49) with 2:51 remaining.
However, after Nelson rimmed out what would have been a game-tying trey in the final minutes, Bountiful's key role players, including Jaimee Stahle, Amy Chidester and Redding, came up with a couple of big-time defensive stops and rebounds before burying all of their free throws in the final 45 seconds to secure the nail-biting 59-51 win and spot in the 4A state championship game.
“They’re a really good team and you’ve got to give them credit. I knew it was going to be a fight down to the wire. Honestly, I’m a proud papa right now. I love seeing them do that down the stretch and put the game away,” said Burton.
Ryan Love is a full-time student and has been a part-time sportswriter for Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724