Both candidates for the 1A girls basketball state championship punched their tickets with come-from behind victories Friday night at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield. They also happened to be the number one and two seeds heading into this year’s tourney.
Piute, the top seeded team, turned around an early deficit to take a 41-33 win over Panguitch, while Tabiona edged out Rich in the night’s closest game 32-31.
Piute’s girls found themselves down 12-5 after the first eight minutes of play.
“We’ve battled all year long,” said coach Tim Westwood. “These girls are resilient. We finally got it going in the second quarter and never looked back.”
The Lady Thunderbirds tightened down the defense, holding Panguitch to just five points in the second period.
Meanwhile, a surge fueled by buckets from Terra Morgan, Ashton Winkle and a buzzer shot by Brooklyn Jessen allowed Piute to claim its first lead of the game at the half, 17-15.
However, an even bigger momentum shift came as Kassidy Westwood scored her 1,000th career point to open the third stanza.
“It was pretty rewarding, like all my hard work paid off,” Kassidy said. She went on to cap the third period by firing off a mid-court buzzer-beater that went in, pulling Piute ahead by 10 points.
The T-birds were then able to finish off the job, earning a chance to defend their state title from last year.
“I’m looking forward to getting the opportunity we had last year to play in the state championship with my team and compete,” Kassidy said. “My team and coaches are the best. It takes a whole team and a community to win.”
“It’s been a long tournament, I think we’re battle ready and battle tested,” coach Westwood said. “Tabiona is very physical and will be a tough match for us.”
The Tabiona Tigers followed the lead of Abby Rhoades as she netted 18 points in the thrill ride of the night. The win earned Tabiona its first appearance in the state tourney since 2017.
Rich didn’t make it easy, going on an 11-0 run early in the first quarter.
“We got down by 11 and they fought back,” said Tabiona coach Jake Fabrizio.
A pair of 3-pointers from Rhoades helped spurt the comeback, but at halftime Rich was still clinging to an 18-15 edge.
Tabiona’s defense limited Rich’s girls to just two field goals in the third period, leaving the game in a 22-all knot.
Rhoades untied the knot, shooting 6-8 from the foul line in the final stanza, and adding another shot from the paint to help keep Tabiona ahead as the lead changed six times. However, with 51.6 seconds to go, Rich’s Tayla Mckee clutched in two points from the charity stripe, putting Rich up 31-30.
That’s when Tabiona’s Madison Rhoades dropped in her second bucket of the game with less than 30 seconds to go. An offensive foul on Rich put the ball back in Tabiona’s hands, ending the game.
“This is something our girls have wanted all year,” Fabrizio said. “We have a lot of character on our team and we’re just excited to be here. It’s so awesome to have the opportunity to meet good teams.”
The last time Tabiona and Piute played, it was a 45-43 barnburner Piute won in December. They play for the championship Saturday at 4:30 p.m.