SALT LAKE CITY — Pleasant Grove has worked earnestly to fix what has ailed them in the past, and a lot of that work paid off big on Friday, with a 57-42 win over Copper Hills in the 6A semifinal round.
Last year saw the Vikings reach the same semifinal round, only to be taken out by Bingham. But what occurred immediately after last year's defeat ushered in a season where Randy McAllister's team is just one win away from the ultimate goal of a state championship.
"When we lost to Bingham last year we told (the players), 'Good job. Good job, and we'll see you in a week. Take a week off,'" McAllister said. "But Matt Van Komen texted us that night, when we got home, and asked, 'Can we lift tomorrow?' And sure enough, there were 20 kids in there the next day."
Van Komen is Pleasant Grove's 7-foot-4 center, who was only a sophomore last season, yet showed enough leadership to set forth a work ethic the whole team has benefitted from this season.
During Friday's win, Van Komen led things out with his dominating inside presence, en route to scoring 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field. The leading scorer, however, was guard Casey Brown, who scored a game-high 25 while proving the Vikings are far more than their surprisingly athletic 7-plus-footer.
Brown's biggest basket on Friday was perhaps the first two points of the fourth quarter.
The Vikings had led throughout the game, yet some late momentum by the Grizzlies cut the lead to just 37-31 entering the final eight minutes of play. According to coaches and players, the huddle between the third and fourth quarters wasn't exactly a pleasant one.
"They were very disappointed. I couldn't even get a word in for the first 30 seconds of that break because they were on each other," McAllister said. "They were disappointed with how they let (Copper Hills) back in."
"We've had a lot of problems finishing out quarters and halves this year, so we were kind of frustrated," Brown added. "We knew we had to blow it open, and we did that, and they never came back."
Kael Mikkelsen laid out on the floor for a steal on the fourth quarter's opening possession, found a streaking Brown running down the court, which was converted into a layup and an eight-point lead at 39-31.
"It was huge," McAllister said.
Tyler Fairbanks added a 3-pointer for the Vikings, pushing the lead to double-figures, and putting the Grizzlies squarely behind the eight-ball for the remainder. Once again it was Brown, scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter to help secure the win, and thereby gaining a trip to the state championship game.
"He's played like that all year," McAllister said. "It's on a bigger stage now, so it probably looked sweeter tonight...So he's capable of doing that a lot."
As for playing in the championship game, Brown relishes the opportunity.
"I'm so excited. I've never played in a state championship game, so it's an awesome feeling finishing off that game and then playing tomorrow," Brown said.
Pleasant Grove will take on the winner of Lone Peak versus Layton in the 6A state championship on Saturday at 1 p.m. MST.