Nineteen games into their season, few teams have been able to challenge the Ridgeline Riverhawks.
With an average margin of victory of 26 points against Utah opponents, only one team, the reigning 4A champion Sky View Bobcats, have been able to give Ridgeline a scare. Just three weeks ago, the Riverhawks needed overtime to get a 51-49 over the Bobcats.
But as the two teams met once again Thursday night at Ridgeline High School, the Riverhawks dominated late in the rivalry game, proving that they were deserving of the first win — and maybe more — with a 62-48 win over the Bobcats.
Carrying just a four point lead heading into the fourth quarter, Ridgeline outscored the Bobcats 19-9 over the final eight minutes of play, quashing the chances of another nail-biting finish between the two sides.
Ridgeline assistant coach Scott Jackson, who filled in as head coach for the matchup, said that dominant final quarter was simply a matter of enhanced execution on both sides of the floor.
The Riverhawks held Sky View to just one point through the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, while scoring six straight from inside the paint on offense. The dominant stretch gave Ridgeline a nine point lead, which was its largest of the game at that point.
“In that fourth quarter we got some easy buckets that seemed to take some of their energy and give us more energy,” Jackson said. “Defensively we just focused on contesting every shot. In the first three quarters we contested their shots well and they went (in), but in the fourth we contested shots and they didn’t go (in).”
The Riverhawks didn’t generate the high-percentage looks consistently until the final quarter, but their shooting ability more than made up the difference. Eighteen of Ridgeline’s 26 first half points came from beyond the arc, compared to just one made three from Sky View.
Though they were hitting their shots from distance at a decent clip, Jackson said that they didn’t want the dependence on the 3-point line to continue.
“We try to be balanced on offense, but in the first we got a little out of balance,” Jackson said. “At halftime, one of the adjustments that we talked about was getting to the rim more and I think that got us back in balance. We have the ability to knock down shots when things are tough in the middle, but we don’t like to live and die by the three.”
The Riverhawks finished the game with nine made 3-pointers from six different players.
Freshman Emilee Skinner led the scoring charge for Ridgeline with 19 points, but she stuffed the stat sheet elsewhere as well, finishing with 10 rebounds and six assists (both team-highs).
Jackson said that Skinner’s impressive ability to get her own buckets is almost as impressive as her natural ability to facilitate and boost her teammates. Though he heaped mounds of praise on the scary-good freshman, he did acknowledge that she is just one piece of the puzzle.
Skinner shared that sentiment as well.
“We all rely on each other and know that each of us can get the job done,” Skinner said. “Everyone (on the team) can score and it doesn’t matter who scores, so we just trust each other and are unselfish, and that’s how we get our buckets.”
Following Skinner on the scoresheet were sophomores Elise Livingston and Hallee Smith, who scored 12 and 11, respectively. Livingtson added two assists, two steals and two blocks, while Smith recorded four assists, three rebounds and a steal.
Sky View junior Macy Hellstern led the Bobcats with 18 points on two made three pointers.
With the win the No. 1 ranked Riverhawks improved to 19-1 on the season and 7-0 in region play, giving them a comfortable lead in Region 11, where they are now runaway favorites to secure the region title.
After being picked in the preseason to finish third in the 4A classification, the senior-less, sophomore-dominant Riverhawks squad is way ahead of schedule and is only going to get better as time goes on.
“Our mentality is just to go out and get better at what we do every game,” Jackson said. “These girls are embracing that mentality and doing a really great job at staying focused. They’re just fun. They’re really, really fun.”