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5A girls basketball tournament: Highland stuns Corner Canyon thanks to gutsy fourth quarter

TAYLORSVILLE — During a day full of upsets of No. 1 seeds, the No. 4-seeded Highland Rams added another in a 51-45 surprise victory over top-seeded Corner Canyon in the opening round of the 5A girls basketball playoffs on Monday night at Salt Lake Community College.

Highland coach Kurt Schneider and his team believed that they could win from the start of the game.

“Honestly, yes. Absolutely, 100 percent,” Schneider said when asked if he believed his team could win. “When we play like the first half, maybe we hit more threes than we typically do, but we do a good job of playing defense, competing and working together as a team, so I think we’re a really good defensive team and I thought that Corner Canyon, they like to shoot quick shots and it played into our favor.”

Misini Fifita scored six points during the contest, but five of them were among Highland’s most important points of the game. Fifita hit a clutch 3-pointer with just a minute remaining to extend the Rams’ lead to four points, and then Fifita’s late-game free throws sealed the stunning win for Highland.

“She struggled tonight, she struggled, and she just sticks with it. One thing that I love about Sini is that she turns the page all the time. Even when I get on her, she just turns that page and doesn’t worry about things, and she’s able to put things in the past and that’s what she does," Schneider said.

Highland jumped out to a 16-5 lead in the first quarter, fueled by a barrage of 3-pointers to open the contest. At the end of the period, the Rams led by 10 points, 18-8.

The second quarter was more of the same for the Rams. Highland sprinted to a 10-1 run to open the period and played good defense on Corner Canyon throughout the quarter, but the Chargers went on a 5-0 run to close the gap to 11 points at halftime. Olivia Beckstead led Highland with 13 points at halftime, and the Rams continued to shoot threes at a high clip, shooting 67 percent by the halftime break, while Corner Canyon shot just 21 percent from the field at the halfway points. Highland’s lead stretched to as large as 17 in the first half.

But Corner Canyon wasn’t going to go away easy.

Corner Canyon went on an 11-2 run in the third quarter, pressing the Rams every time they brought the ball down the court, forcing turnovers and getting out and running after defensive rebounds. Highland clung to a two-point lead entering the fourth quarter after it was outscored 15-6 in the third quarter.

“We weathered the storm. Like I told them at the end of the third quarter, ‘You took their best punch at this point in time, we’ve played a really bad eight minutes of basketball, and you’re still in the lead, so let’s go out and finish it off,” Schneider said. “That’s what they did. They hit some big shots and they played their guts out.”

As Corner Canyon continued to whittle the Highland lead down throughout the fourth quarter, Highland responded late in the quarter. Kaija Glasker put the Rams up four with an and-one layup, but Martin responded with a 3-pointer to cut it to one. Every time the Chargers threatened to take their first lead of the game, Highland would hold defensively.

Fifita hit a corner three with a minute remaining to put Highland up four. A defensive stop from Highland and a pair of free throws from Fifita sealed the game for the Rams.

“I knew that we were up by one point, and I knew that I had to do something, and I was open, so I just took the chance and shot the three,” Fifita said.