Three straight trips to the semifinals, three straight losses. That was narrative top seed Lehi was trying to change heading into the Wednesday’s 5A semifinal at the University of Utah. Mission accomplished.
The fourth time proved to be the charm for the Pioneers as they grabbed an early lead against No. 4 Highland and never relinquished on its way to the impressive 49-38 victory.
Lehi returned just one starter from last year’s semifinal team, but coach Sean Seastrand said there was no rebuild mentality with this group.
“Right after the semifinal, as soon as the moratorium ended, we started preparing for this group to be ready to just pick up right where we left off. We didn’t want it to be one of those ‘Alright, now we’ve got to rebuild.’ And we felt like we had the girls to do it,” said Seastrand.
Standing in Lehi’s way next on its quest to win the school’s first state title since 1980 is nemesis Springville. When the teams meet at BYU on Saturday at 11 a.m. in the 5A state championship, Lehi knows it’s going up against a team that it’s lost to in the past two semifinals.
“I’m excited. It hasn’t really hit me yet. I’m just super pumped and I’m super excited to have this opportunity with this team,” said Lehi senior Jamisyn Heaton, who led her team with 14 points and who has been a contributor each of the past three years.
The challenge against Springville in the championship will be much different than the challenge against Highland.
“The challenge we faced with this group was we knew we could hang skill-wise, execution-wise, I mean I think we’re as good as anybody, but they were big and physical and they’re just tough and athletic,” said Seastrand.
He thought beating a tough, physical Jordan team in the quarterfinals prepared his players for Highland’s strengths.
Lehi jumped out to a 9-3 lead at the end of the first quarter and stretched it to as much as 15 late in the second quarter before a half-court buzzer beater by Highland’s Sophia Legate cut the lead to 27-17 at the half.
Leading by 12 midway through the fourth quarter Lehi looked to be in good shape. Highland’s urgency, however, injected a little chaos into the game and forced Lehi into some uncharacteristic turnovers. That helped the Rams rip off a 7-0 run and cut the deficit to 41-36 with 2:41 remaining. They even had a shot to make a one-possession game, but it missed and Lehi finished off the game from there.
After Highland’s 7-0 run, Seastrand called a timeout and reminded his players that this was no different than the two-minute drills they’ve been doing in practice every day for the past three months.
Neither team shot particularly well, both around 35%, but one of the biggest keys to the game for Lehi was on the boards where it enjoyed a 30-22 rebounding edge.
“Our main goal was boxing them out on rebounds. I had heard that they’re averaging 15 offensive rebounds a game and we held them to five this game,” said Heaton.
Despite Highland’s size and physicality in the post, Lehi only allowed two second-chance points the entire game. Maci Wall was a big key to that as she led the team with eight rebounds to go along with her 10 points.
Highland’s Sosefina Langi led all scorers with 15 points in the loss.