SALT LAKE CITY — Timpview's AJ Bollinger ws able to return just in time to help ensure his team's 59-49 win over Highland in the 4A state semifinals on Friday.
With 3:10 remaining in the third quarter, and with the game tied at 31-31, Bollinger landed awkwardly on his ankle and had to hobble to the bench to have his ankle worked on by team trainers. He remained on the bench for the remainder of the third quarter and into the start of the fourth.
As critical as Bollinger's presence is for the T-Birds, his teammates stepped up and were able to trade blows with the Rams even with their starting center ailing on the bench.
The tradeoff of baskets saw Timpview earn a 40-38 lead with 7:10 left in the fourth quarter after Hunter Ericson drained a 3-pointer. While Ericson was earning his team the lead, Bollinger was seen on the bench hopping up and down — anxiously awaiting to go back in.
“I’m glad I didn’t because Hunter Erickson hit that money 3 and that stretched (the lead) a little bit,” Timpview coach Kevin Santiago said about subbing Bollinger out for the first few minutes of the fourth. “So once we put AJ back in we got the easy win.”
Highland managed to tie things at 40-40 right before Bollinger entered and then responded with a 9-0 run to take a commanding 49-40 lead with just under three minutes remaining after Bollinger's return.
“I thought he did a great job of getting the baskets when he needed them and giving it back to guys when he didn’t have it,” Santiago said of Bollinger's final seven minutes played.
As for the ankle, Bollinger had tweaked it during the regular season and was confident he could get over it and return quickly after it happened.
“It hurts really bad at first, but it eventually calms down,” Bollinger said. “So I knew I was going back in. The same thing happened last time."
As for waiting to go back into the game, the 6-foot-3 senior was obviously very anxious, “I was dying. I wanted to get in so bad (to help) my guys,” Bollinger said.
The 9-0 run proved decisive as Highland was unable to cut much into the lead until the final buzzer.
Bollinger finished the game scoring 20 points while pulling down seven rebounds.
“He’s so tough,” Santiago said of Bollinger. “Pound for pound and inch for inch, however you want to do it — he has such a presence down there. … He’s been our guy for a long time.”
Other key contributors for Timpview included Gavin Baxter, who scored 12 points while doing his best work during the game's final stretch. Also playing big for the T-Birds was forward Colson Santiago, who scored 13 points and hit two big 3-pointers during the second half.
“He kept his composure and they were on him from the start, not wanting him to shoot,” coach Santiago said of Colson. “But he stayed with it and was able to hit some big shots for us.”
Highland was led by Brevin Elsholz, who matched Bollinger's scoring total with 20. Christopher Shelton added 15 points and Rick Schmidt 10 for the Rams.
“I knew they would compete,” Santiago said of Highland. “We expected it to be a tough game.”
With the win, Timpview advances to the 4A state championship game, where it will take on Olympus Saturday at 11 a.m.