It’s not how you start, but how you finish, and American Fork’s boys basketball team has a chance to finish on top.
The 10th-seeded Cavemen — who lost 13 games this season playing a very tough schedule — will be playing on the final day of the season this Saturday after outlasting No. 3 seed Pleasant Grove in a frantic 6A semifinal at the University of Utah on Thursday, 56-53.
“At this point you survive and be excited and happy to move forward, but you’re also humbled a lot because it’s not easy,” said American Fork coach Ryan Cuff.
“We had some adversity through the season and it says a lot about them because they didn’t quit, they stayed together and became stronger as teammates. They really are locked in, they love each other, they care about each other. It’s been a process for sure.”
American Fork led by five in the fourth quarter on three different occasions, eventually watching it slip away after back-to-back 3-pointers by Pleasant Grove, but still had the resolve to fight back and make the winning plays late.
Ollie Anderson and Evan Young were the heroes of the night, specifically the final 33 seconds.
After Pleasant Grove took its first lead of the fourth quarter with 55 seconds remaining on a 3-pointer by Isaac Garrett, Anderson responded with a driving layup with 33 seconds left putting the Cavemen back in front 54-53.
Young then took a charge at the end of the floor with eight seconds remaining to help the Cavemen regain possession. Anderson then sank two free throws giving American Fork a 3-point cushion for the final six seconds, and then Young preserved the win by blocking a baseline 3-pointer in the final second.
Cuff said it was great to see Anderson but involved in some many key moments as he finished with 11 points.
“He’s had an incredible season, he’s stayed the course all year long. Early on he was starting for us and we got some guys back and didn’t play as much for a while and then region he came in and he battled and battled and made it really hard for coach not to play him,” said Cuff.
Anderson’s layup was the ninth lead change of the game in a well-played semifinal in which American Fork shot 62% and Pleasant Grove shot 49%.
Ashton Wallace scored 17 points on 7 of 8 shooting to lead American Fork, while McCaden Adams led Pleasant Grove with 23 points in the heartbreaking loss.
With the win, American Fork advances to face region foe Corner Canyon in Saturday’s state championship game at BYU at 7 p.m. Corner Canyon swept the two region meetings, but both were close games.
“There’s a lot of confidence on our end and excitement that we get to play them but we also know how good they are and how prepared they will be,” said Cuff. “What an awesome opportunity for our schools, our communities to be able to have this for the kids.”