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High school girls basketball: Strong defensive effort propels Skyridge past Syracuse

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No. 8 Skyridge’s stifling defense was too much for No. 9 Syracuse Thursday night in Lehi, as the Falcons cruised past the Titans for the 52-39 victory. Skyridge is headed to another 6A quarterfinal — the Falcons’ third quarterfinal appearance since making the jump to 6A in as many years.  

“We executed exactly what our game plan was. We were going to try to just do our press,” Skyridge head coach Shaylee Nielsen said. “I had faith that Syracuse probably hasn’t seen anything like that. It’s really hard to prepare (for it) too even if you know we’re going to play that 1-3-1. It’s real hard to simulate it.”

Syracuse’s offense rolled in a Tuesday night win over No. 24 Roy as the Titans advanced to their second-round matchup against Skyridge with ease. 

Thursday was a different story, as the Titans had trouble scoring against a suffocating Falcon defense. 

“We knew they had amazing shooters. They’ve got a great big in (Gracie) Sorenson,” Nielsen said. “We wanted them to be rushed and uncomfortable.”

Nielsen got her wish as Syracuse looked out of sorts for much of the night, scoring well below its 50-point average. 

Defense has been a big focus for the second-year head coach. “It’s been our backbone all year,” she said. “We rely on our defense. It takes kids that are willing to do it, because it’s hard. (Our players) run more than you ever would in any other defense. We talk. We have to stay disciplined. So I’m just really, really proud of that defensive effort against a really good offensive team.” 

The Falcons jumped out to an 11-point lead by the end of the first quarter thanks to their relentless defense. But the Titans wouldn’t go away, tightening things up going into the break. Skyridge broke the game open in the second half after holding Syracuse to a measly two points in the third. 

The Falcons coupled their impressive defense with good offense, scoring eight three-pointers on the night. Kjirsten Gotberg scored 12 points and Cambree Blackham added 11 for Skyridge, as the Falcons proved to be too much for the Titans on both ends of the floor. 

“We executed exactly what our game plan was. We were going to try to just do our press.” — Skyridge head coach Shaylee Nielsen

Thursday’s contest was Skyridge’s first of the tournament after the Falcons earned the final first round bye of this year’s postseason. Skyridge used the extra time to prepare for Thursday’s matchup.

“We were able to prep all week while they had to play,” Nielsen said. “And it’s always nice to get to play at home in front of your home crowd. So I think that was really big for us to sneak into that eighth spot.”

Both schools hoped to sneak back to this year’s quarterfinal, after each was eliminated in that round a season ago. For Syracuse, those hopes were dashed in Thursday’s loss. The Titans’ season ends in the second round of the state tournament, bringing their record to 18-6 on the year.

Skyridge’s win means it will get a third shot at taking down Region 4 foe and top-seeded Lone Peak.  

Nielsen hopes the familiarity will favor her squad. “It’s tough to beat a team three times,” she said. “So hopefully we can keep that true.”

The state tournament will resume Tuesday at the University of Utah. Skyridge and Lone Peak will vie for a spot in the semifinals starting at 7:30 p.m.