Heading into the fourth quarter of Thursday’s semifinal matchup between Highland and Timpview, momentum seemed to be entirely on the side of the Thunderbirds.
Timpview closed out the third period on a 14-6 run to cut the Rams’ lead to just five points, the lowest it had been since the opening minutes of the game.
It became time for Highland — a team that its head coach, Sala Asiata, said had struggled at times with free throws this season — to show what it was made of in crunch time of its biggest game of the year.
By a final score of 59-46, the underclassmen-heavy Rams pulled together and closed the game out in convincing fashion to punch their ticket into the 5A semifinals.
Led by guards Sophia Legate and Sosefina Langi, Highland went 18-for-21 from the foul line in the fourth quarter, quashing Timpview’s hopes at a potential comeback.
Asiata said his players simply got themselves locked in down the stretch of a game they never trailed in.
“They knew coming in that it was going to be a tough-fought game, so they understood they needed a mentality of sticking together,” Asiata said.
“Even though we’ve had our struggles at the line this season, we were able to punch them in when needed.”
Langi finished 14-for-18 from the foul line, while Legate went a perfect 6-for-6.
“I knew that we had to ice the game at the line, so we just focused and we did it,” Legate said. “We stayed composed, and we came together every free throw to always make sure we were all on the same page.”
Legate poured in a game-high 19 points and did it efficiently, shooting 55% from the field and 60% from beyond the arc, while Langi finished with 16 points to go along with six boards.
Though the Rams displayed great mental toughness by knocking down their free throws in the clutch, Legate said that the rebounding was the key to winning the game.
Highland outrebounded Timpview 42-27 on the night and finished with more offensive rebounds (17) than the Thunderbirds had defensive boards (14).
The rebound totals were bolstered by an unsung performance from Cecilia Olevao. Though the 5-foot-11 junior only notched one point on the night, she dominated the glass, finishing with 17 boards.
Asiata said that it’s performances like Olevao’s that win hard-fought games like Monday’s.
“(Cecilia) is a big part of what we do,” Asiata said. “She does a lot of the little things, and that’s exactly what we need.
“As a coaching staff we preach hard box-outs and rebounds, so I just loved her effort and it showed tonight. Seventeen boards. You can’t get much better than that.”
The Rams rolled out a 2-3 zone for the entirety of the game, a strategy that Asiata said he and his staff hoped after watching film would disrupt the Thunderbirds.
Safe to say that assessment by the Rams’ coaching staff was spot on, as the Thunderbirds struggled to find uncontested shots that didn’t force them to shoot over the zone.
Timpview shot 28.6% from the field and 26% from the 3-point line, with nearly half of their total field goal attempts coming from downtown.
The win for the Rams means a matchup with the first-seeded Lehi on Wednesday at 3 p.m.
Well aware that their toughest test is yet again on the horizon, both Legate and Asiata said they respect the Pioneers, but won’t overthink the matchup.
“There’s nothing that we can say (to the team) other than they should treat it as a normal game,” Asiata said.
“We can’t get caught up in the hype. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re locked in and ready. We’ll just keep the mentality we’ve had all year: Respect everyone we play but fear none.”