The Judge Memorial Bulldogs found themselves in an uncommon position during their 3A semifinal matchup with Morgan.
For the third time in their undefeated season, they trailed at halftime.
The Trojans closed the second quarter on a 12-4 run and though the Bulldogs only trailed by one point at the break, momentum seemed like it was working against the No. 1 seed.
Head coach Joshawa Pike said that the Bulldogs just simply needed to relax, play their game and shake off the jitters.
“We played like we didn’t want to make any mistakes and that’s not our game. … We just (needed) to play ball,” Pike said.
Judge responded by settling in over the final 16 minutes of play and used an 8-0 run midway through the third quarter to retake control of the game, which it won by a score of 63-54 to advance to the 3A title game.
Teya Sidberry turned out yet another strong performance for the Bulldogs, finishing with 33 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and two steals.
The state’s all-time leading scorer excelled at getting to the line and converting her chances, as she finished 17 of 18 from the charity stripe.
Marika Collins and Nyandeng Deng finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively, to supplement Sidberry’s scoring.
A major reason for Morgan’s first-half success was its performance on the offensive glass. In the first two quarters, the Trojans notched as many offensive boards (10) as Judge had total rebounds.
The Bulldogs responded by allowing only three offensive boards in the second half.
“It was just about who wants it (more),” Pike said. “I really emphasized that in the locker room (during halftime) — it doesn’t matter what’s going on, if that ball is in the air, it’s nobody’s possession and we’ve got to go get it.
“I think we did a lot better with that in the second half.”
Morgan senior Janel Blazzard performed admirably for the Trojans, notching a team-high 21 points and six rebounds.
Alyvia Jaffa finished with a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double for the Trojans, who will play for third place Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
For Judge, it will be its second championship game appearance in the last three years, where its opponent will be the second-seeded Richfield Wildcats.
Despite going scoreless for over 12 minutes of gameplay, the Wildcats somewhat miraculously managed to pull out a 43-39 victory over Layton Christian Academy in their semifinal.
Senior Rebecca Poulsen shined late in the game for Richfield, hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a 41-39 lead with 25 seconds remaining, then took a charge on LCA’s ensuing possession to help put the game away.
“We were pounding it in with Nicole (Willardson) there at the very end, but it wasn’t open and she just stepped up and hit like she’s done in Richfield ever since she was a little kid,” Richfield head coach Marc Peterson said of Poulsen.
“She just calmly shot it, and then to go down on the other end and take a charge, it was a great finish.”
The hopes for advancing to the title game looked bleak for a good while for the Wildcats as they experienced a scoring drought Peterson said was nothing like he had ever seen before as a coach.
The Eagles scored 16 points during the lengthy drought that took place over the entire second quarter and half of the third.
Richfield had its seven-point first quarter lead erased as LCA took a 23-14 advantage.
The Wildcats finally managed to get the lid off the hoop and went on a 9-2 to decrease the deficit to two points heading into the fourth quarter, where Richfield, with Poulsen’s help, came out on top.
Poulsen finished the game with five made 3-pointers — three of which came in the fourth quarter — to score a game-high 15 points.
Willardson chipped in an additional 13 points for the Wildcats.
Peterson praised the tenacity of his team, which never gave up despite its offensive struggles.
“What can I say about my girls,” Peterson said. “They never gave up and fought. It got pretty scary there for a little bit, but they didn’t quit.”
With the championship game now set, the Bulldogs and the Wildcats will meet Saturday at 5 p.m. at the Dee Events Center for the right to hoist the state title trophy above their heads.