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High school boys basketball: Juan Diego hangs on to defeat Ridgeline in 4A quarterfinals

The Soaring Eagle defeated the RiverHawks 57-52

Juan Diego plays Ridgeline in the 4A boys basketball state quarterfinals at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. Juan Diego won 57-52.
Juan Diego plays Ridgeline in the 4A boys basketball state quarterfinals at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. Juan Diego won 57-52.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

OGDEN — The Juan Diego Soaring Eagle are back. Well almost.

For three consecutive seasons, from 2016 to 2018, the Soaring Eagle were state finalists and considered among the best basketball teams the classification had to offer. That all changed last year when Juan Diego was upset — on paper — by eventual 4A state champion Sky View in the second round of the playoffs.

“It felt weird,” Juan Diego head coach Drew Trost admitted.

There was no second-round upset this year as the Soaring Eagle took care of business against Crimson Cliffs on Friday, Feb 21. And Thursday afternoon at Weber State’s Dee Events Center, the Soaring Eagle did what they do best: advance deep into the state tournament.

Juan Diego defeated Ridgeline 57-52 in the quarterfinals of the 4A state tournament, clinching a berth in the semifinals. Junior guard Talon Valdes led the way with a game-high 19 points, while Matty Rodriguez and Mateus Rohden chipped in 15 and 14 points, respectively.

“It is good,” said Trost. “It feels good to be back and it feels good to be able to advance to the semifinals.”

For much of the game, it seemed all but certain Juan Diego would in fact advance, despite being the No. 6 seed to Ridgeline’s No. 3. The Soaring Eagle were aggressors from the outset and took a nine-point lead by the end of the first quarter, a 15 point lead at halftime.

“When we do things well, when we are smart and take care of the ball and execute our plays, we can be a pretty good team,” Trost said.

Juan Diego benefitted mightily from the play of Rodriguez and Rohden, who picked up scoring slack from Valdes, who was the focus of the RiverHawks defensive scheme.

“A lot of people are going to key in on Talon. We know that, so we have to be able to have other people scoring and that was key,” said Trost. “Rodriguez got us some big buckets and Rohden got us some big buckets. Having other people score because everyone is all over Valdez was crucial.”

It wasn’t just offense where Juan Diego thrived, though. They stifled a Ridgeline offense that came in averaging 60 points per game. The RiverHawks shot just 38% from the field in the first half and made just one 3-pointer on nine attempts.

“That is what we worked on all week, getting out on 3s,” said Trost. “I think they finished 7 of 27 so that is solid. They only made one in the first half, so we did a nice job defensively that way.”

As the stats allude to, the Soaring Eagle’s defensive prowess waned in the second half, as Ridgeline made a game of it. Much of the damage came in the fourth quarter — the RiverHawks got as close as four points with just over a minute remaining — when Ridgeline outscored Juan Diego 22-15.

Whether it be Kaden Cox (12 points), Peyton Knowles (11 points) or Chase Hall and Kyler Hansen (9 points apiece), the RiverHawks found a way to attack Juan Diego, to much success.

It helped the rally that the Soaring Eagle took their foot off the gas on offense.

“Some of that is probably my fault because we were trying to be patient and that can be scary when you take your foot off the pedal,” said Trost. “Sometimes that might bite you in the butt.”

It didn’t help that the Soaring Eagle struggled from the free-throw line, either.

“We also didn’t make many free throws at the end and if you make those free throws maybe it doesn’t look so bad,” Trost said.

Bad ending or not, Juan Diego pulled out the victory to earn a berth in the semifinals, where the Soaring Eagle will face the Dixie Flyers at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow.