Despite the RPI rankings indicating that Springville was the sixth-best team heading into the 5A state tournament, everyone knew who the real team to beat was.
It was the team on a 12-game winning streak, the team that defends like offense is irrelevant and the team that’s been there, done that.
Springville showed Saturday afternoon at BYU why it’s the best program in 5A, as it led nearly the entire game in a convincing 54-43 victory over Lehi for its second straight state championship.
After going 5-5 in the preseason — every loss was to a 6A team — Springville ripped off 12 straight wins to end the regular season and then backed it up with five double-digit playoff wins.
“I feel like that second half of region we really kind of hit our stride and played good basketball and looked good,” said Springville coach Holli Averett, who now has a 2-1 coaching record in championship games in just three years at Springville.
“I’m so proud of the girls. All the work they put in, offseason, during the season, it wasn’t easy. We’re always undersized. We have no bigs, technically. They bought into what we wanted and they played hard.”
The biggest buy-in comes on the defensive side, and nobody does it better than the Red Devils.
All season they’ve made it difficult for the opposition to get good shots, and that’s precisely what it did to top-seed Lehi, holding the Pioneers to 44 percent shooting and forcing 15 turnovers.
Ten of those turnovers came in the first quarter as Springville opened up a 10-point halftime lead.
That lead never dipped below seven in the entire second half.
“We always come back to our defense. We said we’ve got to amp up the D, make sure we have that pressure, off ball D, on ball D, everyone’s got to be focused, and I feel like the defense leads to our offense,” said Averett.
Springville didn’t shoot quite as well as Lehi, but it had nine more field goal attempts as it enjoyed a 12-4 edge in offensive rebounding and a 15-11 edge in turnovers forced.
Brooke Pennington, who scored 15 points, said the moment never really seemed too big after playing a tough preseason schedule that included Fremont, Lone Peak and Westlake — all 6A semifinalists.
“I think being able to deal with adversity coming into the tournament is really good. We were down sometimes. They were getting on a run and we were able to pull it off,” said Pennington, who was named the Deseret News 5A state tournament MVP.
Kayla Porray led Springville in scoring with 16 points while Ellie Esplin added 13.
Esplin and Porray were the only returning contributors from last year’s state championship team, but once all the newcomers caught up to speed, Springville became too tough for the rest of 5A.
Lehi actually got off to a great start on Saturday, scoring on its first three possessions and jumping out to a quick 7-2 lead.
Slowly, however, Springville’s pressure started to get to Lehi. It turned the ball over on its final four possessions of the first quarter as Springville closed on a 7-0 run.
A similar 8-0 run sparked by its defense in the second quarter pushed the advantage to 30-20 by halftime.
“Staying composed, not freaking out, they came in and trapped and it was really important to stay relaxed and play our game,” said Pennington.
In the second half, Lehi was sharper in possession, but shot just 36 percent and could never chip away at the lead as Springville was in no hurry to play quick.
In the second half, 18 of Springville’s 24 points came from the free throw line, and it finished the game 20 of 27.
Maci Wall and Tara Smith both finished with 14 points in the loss for Lehi, which was seeking its first state title since 1980.
Springville, meanwhile, has now won seven state titles in school history and six in the past 13 seasons.
Its five leading scorers were all juniors this year, so Averett’s team could easily run it back with a 3-peat next year.
Deseret News 5A girls all-tournament team
MVP —Brooke Pennington, Springville
Ellie Esplin, Springville
Kayla Porray, Springville
Jamisyn Heaton, Lehi
Maci Wall, Lehi
Taylor Harvey, Bountiful