Heading into Saturday’s 1A championship game against top-seeded Valley, the Piute girls basketball team knew they couldn’t take anything for granted.
The Thunderbirds held on for a 44-40 title win in a battle between region rivals Saturday evening at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield.
“We don’t look past Valley. They are smart players and they know how to play the game,” said Hannah Wittwer, a junior on Piute’s team.
Valley opened up with 7-0 run and prevented Piute’s girls from scoring for nearly five and a half minutes.
“I felt like if we could just get one ball to go through the hoop we’d be alright,” said Piute coach Tim Westwood.
That’s exactly what happened as Piute’s Tera Morgan put up an inside jump shot that rolled into the net. From there the dam broke as the Thunderbirds scored the next 14 points, building up a 16-7 edge.
“It took a lot of defensive teamwork. We all had a role; it wasn’t just one person, it was a team.” — Piute’s Ashton Winckel
“Wayne County did the same thing to us,” said Ashley Talbot, Piute’s lone senior. “We just had to get the nerves out, and that’s how we do it apparently, by letting them score.”
Through the second period, Piute completely shut Valley’s shooting down from the field. The only points for the Buffaloes in the second stanza came from the foul line. After a pair of treys, the T-Birds held a 19-11 advantage at the half.
“It took a lot of defensive teamwork,” said Piute junior Ashton Winckel. “We all had a role; it wasn’t just one person, it was a team.”
Talbot opened the third period with a shot from beyond the arc. Talbot ended the night 12 points, including two 3-pointers.
“I was very nervous, but it was a calm nervous,” Talbot said. “I believed our team could do it, even though they beat us twice during the season. We only beat them once.”
The Piute girls scored nine more points in the third period, knowing that even with a 31-15 edge, Valley was still dangerous. However, up until that point, shots were having a hard time dropping for Valley. Valley ended the game shooting 13 of 37 from the field and 12 of 21 from the charity stripe.
Meanwhile, Piute was able to convert at higher percentage, hitting 14 of 29 from the floor and 12 of 18 from the foul line.
“Valley is a superb team. They have great leadership and ... girls who can score quick and fast,” Westwood said. “I kept telling the girls, ‘They’re going to come back. You’ve got to stay on your toes.’”
Valley’s girls fulfilled that prediction as they started to draw themselves back into the game by netting the next seven points.
Through the fourth stanza, Valley’s defense tightened up, allowing just two Piute shots from the field to go in.
Meanwhile, Valley’s Paige Harris scored eight of her total 11 points in the final eight minutes, including a bucket from under the hoop as the final buzzer sounded. However, Piute outlasted the surge to ice the win.
“We just played a good game, and our shots went in,” said freshman Kaycee Gleave. “I love my teammates and I’ll be sad next year when Ashley leaves.”
The win is Piute’s first girls’ basketball state championship since 2010.
Deseret News 1A All-Tournament Team
MVP: Kassidy Westwood, Piute
Tera Morgan, Piute
Ashley Talbot, Piute
Kaycee Gleave, Piute
Esther Cox, Valley
Paige Harris, Valley