Even with a No. 21 seed in the 5A state championship tournament, the Spanish Fork Dons aren’t trying to be anything besides who they are, their coach Brynlie Nielson said.
And that’s just fine, because they are semifinalists.
The Dons’ Cinderella runs continues after they posted a third straight upset in the tournament by defeating No. 4 Lehi, 46-41, in a high-emotion defensive dogfight.
“I don’t think there’s a secret,” Nielson said. “I think the girls just truly believe and bought into the process. We’re playing Lady Don basketball. We’re not trying to be anything different than what we are.”
The Dons kept Lehi from establishing any kind of momentum with a lopsided margin in free throws, shooting 16 of 24 from the stripe while Lehi shot just 5 of 9. Spanish Fork senior forward Emily Gwilliam singlehandedly shot more free throws than Lehi’s entire team, going 10 of 12 from the line and leading her team with 16 points, her fifth-straight game in double figures.
Lehi junior guard Addy Scrivner led the Pioneers with a game-high 19 points on 7 of 14 shooting, while junior forward Kinly Faux scored 12 points.
The Dons fell behind early on courtesy of a solid offensive start by the Pioneers, who shot 46.7% in the first quarter to lead 19-13. After that, Spanish Fork clearly was doing something right on the defensive end as Lehi took all the way to the final minute of the fourth quarter to score their next 19 points.
“We were accountable for each other,” Nielson said. “We looked at our defense in the first quarter and said ‘OK, we gotta fix it; be accountable for each other.’…It all came dow to us wanting to be good teammates. That’s why we’re here.”
The defensive accountability forced the Pioneers to score just 12 points combined over the second and third quarter and held them well under 20% from the field. Lehi tried desperately to get an outside shot to all for most of the game to no avail, shooting 6 of 31 from the 3-point line.
Spanish Fork’s defense easily won the game for them, but the Dons still managed a respectable 37.1% shooting clip, including 4 of 12 from the arc.
Scrivner led all scorers at the half with 13 points on 5 of 8 shooting. Gwilliam paced the Dons with eight points.
Going into the fourth quarter, Spanish Fork held a 34-31 lead that felt much bigger considering the pace of the game. There was about a four-minute stretch of the final frame that proved almost a microcosm of the entire game up to that point, in that Lehi was held scoreless despite several open shot attempts while the Dons went on a 6-0 run entirely on free throws.
By the time Scrivner found the net again for the Pioneers, it was too little too late.
The Dons surprisingly became the second-lowest seed in the 5A tournament to make it to the semifinals, joining No. 22 Skyline. Those two squads will be up against No. 1 Springville and No. 2 Bountiful on Friday for an awkward-yet-entertaining semifinal round.