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High school girls basketball: Sipola Vakautakakala dominates down low to lift Richfield over Carbon in 3A quarterfinals

Carbon plays Richfield in the 3A girls basketball quarterfinals at the Lifetime Activities Center in Taylorsville on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Richfield won 50-36.
Carbon plays Richfield in the 3A girls basketball quarterfinals at the Lifetime Activities Center in Taylorsville on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Richfield won 50-36.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

TAYLORSVILLE — Sipola Vakautakakala wasn’t feeling her best right before Richfield took the court Thursday at Salt Lake Community College for its 3A quarterfinal matchup against Carbon.

Vakautakakala said she was throwing up before the game, but luckily for the Wildcats, the junior was able to shake it off during warmups.

Vakautakakala channeled her inner Michael Jordan and was able to push through, leading Richfield in scoring with 19 points and dominating inside on offense as the Wildcats beat the Dinos 50-36. Jordan Bianco led Carbon with 13 points.

“We knew that we had the advantage inside. In the first half, we just didn’t take advantage of it. With Sipola inside, we just knew that we could dominate and we were better focused on getting the ball to her. She finished, which was big,” Richfield head coach Marc Peterson said.

Vakautakakala scored 11 of her 19 points in the second half and was a key reason why the Wildcats moved on to the semifinals.

“She’s just stronger than most posts. There’s times where we have advantages different ways on this team. We’ve got great guards, but they’ve got great guards. We just thought our matchup to win was inside and that’s how it turned out,” Peterson said.

Richfield led by just one at halftime, but came out in the third quarter anew.

“You go into halftime and you have a pretty good talk of, ‘Where do we want to be at the end of this game? Do we want to be thinking about consolation stuff or do we want to be going for a championship?’ Richfield is all about going for a championship,” Peterson said.

“We got our butts chewed just a little bit,” Vakautakakala added

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The Wildcats got the ball inside to Vakautakakala more in the second half and outscored the Dinos 17-9 in the third period to take control of the game. Richfield’s shooting percentage improved from 39% in the first half to 52% in the second half, in part thanks to Vakautakakala, who was 8 for 13 from the field.

“If she comes in and she establishes herself with good position, we feel like she can finish,” Peterson said.

Thursday’s performance was a cumulation of hard work for Vakautakakala.

“I put in work this whole month, in the mornings, after practice,” she said.

Richfield’s seniors stepped up in the second half, too. Senior point guard Passion Reitz, who had just two points in the first half, scored nine in the second half to total 11. Fellow senior Jarica Steck also ended up with 11 points after scoring just three in the first half.

The Wildcats will move on to the semifinals for the fourth consecutive season. Richfield will take on the winner of the game between No. 1 South Sevier and No. 8 Manti in the semifinals at 4:10 p.m. on Friday.

“This whole year, we’ve been pounding that we want to take state and we want to make it to the next two days, so I think that’s what changed is our momentum,” Vakautakakala said.