Region 9 is now a three-horse race.
Crimson Cliffs officially forced its way into the conversation on Wednesday night as Trei Rockhill’s 3-pointer at the buzzer lifted the Mustangs to the 69-67 win over rival Desert Hills.
Both teams now sit at 7-2 in Region 9, one game back of league-leading Dixie. A loss on Wednesday for second-year Crimson Cliffs would’ve realistically ended any hope of a region title.
With a game against Dixie next week, anything is possible now — which wouldn’t have been realistic without Rockhill’s one-footed, off-balance 3-pointer.
Crimson Cliffs led the entire second half, and by as many as 12 at one point, but it suddenly found itself trailing by one with 17 seconds remaining after Desert Hills’ Mason Landdeck’s step-back 3-pointer.
Landdeck nearly sealed the win with a steal before Rockhill ever got a shot off, but the ball took a fortuitous bounce off his leg and back to Rockhill. The senior quickly picked up the ball, and sensing the final buzzer was about to sound, heaved up a shot as quickly as possible.
“When I shot it I noticed there was 1.5 seconds, so I was like shoot, this is do or die,” said Rockhill.
It dropped straight through the hoop, as Rockhill was mobbed by teammates and students who rushed the court.
Fourth quarter turnovers in the backcourt against Desert Hills’ pressure defense nearly cost Crimson Cliffs the win, but Rockhill shrugged them off and said they’ll make the team better.
“That’s the bad thing about having a young team, but it’s always something we can learn from. I love playing with young players, and they’re going to learn a lot, and it was just one of those learning experiences and luckily we pulled out with the win,” said Rockhill, one of five players who finished in double figures on Wednesday.
Brock Felder led the way with 14 points, while Cole Sampson, Hudson Hawes and Rockhill all adding 13.
Landdeck led all scorers with 24 points.
In the previous meeting between these teams on Jan. 8, Desert Hills hung 92 points on Crimson Cliffs in the 14-point win. Coach Kasey Winters knew his team needed to play better defense to have any chance of avenging that performance.
Aided by a seven-point third quarter from Desert Hills, Crimson Cliffs did exactly that.
“For us coming into this game it was just figuring out a way we could keep them in the 60s, 70s and not let them get into the 90s. We did a better job keeping them off the free-throw line,” said Winters.
Winters also knew Desert Hills wasn’t going to go quietly despite his team leading 56-44 after the third quarter.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Reggie Newby is ultimately what got the Thunder back in the game. Those two shots trimmed a nine-point deficit to a three in a matter of 12 seconds after a Landdeck backcourt steal in between.
Crimson Cliffs responded with 6-2 run though, pushing the lead back to 64-57 with 2:32 remaining. The next two minutes unfolded perfectly for Desert Hills though.
Newby hit another 3-pointer, Keegan Munson came up with a huge blocked shot other end, Landdeck made two free throws, Landdeck got another steal and then Preston Vandermyde sank two free throws tying the game with 1:39 remaining.
“We got pressure, we didn’t take care of the ball. Hit the panic button a little bit,” said Winters, whose team had five fourth quarter turnovers.
After his team squandered the seven-point cushion, Rockhill reclaimed the 66-64 lead with a runner in the lane with 42 seconds left. Landdeck responded with a step-back 3-pointer for the 67-66 lead, but Rockhill had the final exclamation point on the tense region showdown.
“Definitely blood in the water. We knew we had to come back from this one. We got them both times last year, and we were going to let them get us both this year,” said Rockhill.