OREM — It is nearly impossible to have a game won from the opening tip, especially in the state tournament, but the Salem Hills Skyhawks got as close as you can Friday afternoon at UVU’s UCCU Center.
Led by senior Lauren Gustin, who finished with 36 points and 14 rebounds, the Skyhawks blew away the Logan Grizzlies 60-40 in the 4A semifinals.
After Logan tied the game at two points apiece less than a minute into the contest, on a Tori Craner bucket, Salem Hills proceeded to score the game’s next 11 points, eight of which came courtesy of Gustin.
At the end of a quarter, it was 18-6 in favor of Salem Hills. At the end of the first half it was 30-11.
Even that nineteen point halftime lead fails to accurately convey just how dominant the Skyhawks were early on, however, particularly Gustin.
She outscored the Grizzlies on her own in the first half, 18-11. She almost outrebounded them too, she had nine first-half boards to their 11.
When she wasn’t scoring herself, she was facilitating the offense of teammates Dixie Lainhart (12 points), Sydney Sorensen (five points) and Hailee Oldroyd (five points), and the truly crazy thing is her performance was nothing out of the ordinary for her.
She has been simply spectacular all season long.
“It’s amazing. For her (what you saw today) is the status quo,” said Salem Hills head coach Kyle Francom. “(Lauren) is the most unbelievable player I have ever coached. In 14 years coaching I have never coached a player like her. She just has a tenacious work ethic and she is hyper-competitive. In my opinion, she is the greatest there is. I can’t say anything more highly than that. She is the best that we have ever had.”
And yet, the victory stemmed not from her dominance, though it certainly didn’t hurt, but rather from what proved to be a lights-out defensive performance by Salem Hills.
Logan made just 14 shots in the contest, shooting a measly 31 percent from the field. The Grizzlies were just 1 for 15 from behind the arc, and their 40 total points was their lowest scoring output since a 38-34 win over Green Canyon in early February.
“I felt like we played really good defense,” said Gustin. “That is what won us that game.”
“I couldn’t be prouder,” added Francom. “I just thought top to bottom every kid played their role and executed the game-plan.”
Of foremost importance in the Skyhawks' game plan was limiting Grizzlies freshman star Amber Kartchner.
The night before, Kartchner, who averaged over 11 points per game this season, erupted for 27 points, leading the Grizzlies to a runaway victory over Spanish Fork.
With that in mind, Francom drew up a plan to contain her that started with Sorensen. For much of the game, specifically through the first three quarters, Sorensen locked down Kartchner. Kartchner finished with 10 points, but only attempted four shots in the entire contest. She simply didn’t have room to operate, thanks to Sorensen.
“Sydney Sorensen played an unbelievable game on the defensive end,” said Francom. “It is not something that will show up in the box score but she played outstanding.”
“Honestly, we watched them play Spanish Fork last night and it was pretty evident that (Kartchner) is their catalyst. We felt like we needed to take her away early and try to get her frustrated, get her forcing stuff. Sydney and Keanna Vaitohi did a great job guarding her and the help defenders, Dixie, Kaylee Brimhall, Lauren and Hailey Johnson did a great job helping when we needed to come out and help.”
“Eleven points in the first half against a really good team, I couldn’t be prouder.”
With the win, Salem Hills advances to the state title game, to be played Saturday morning at 11 a.m. They will battle the No. 2 seeded Hurricane Tigers.