CEDAR CITY – In a game controlled by the defenses, it was the towering presence of Dustin Staggs and Greyson Hulet that were the determinant factor against the tough pressing defense of Juan Diego. Staggs blocked two consecutive shots with less than a minute to go to preserve the lead and a Cedar victory over the Soaring Eagle, 40-35.
“That is one thing that Greyson and I both do well,” said Staggs. “We protect the paint. We may not always get the block, but we at least alter the shot.”
In the first quarter, Eagle guard Will Hoffler would strike first with a 3-pointer out of the gate. Cedar’s first three points came from the line, two from Jaren Forsyth, the third from Kordan Nielson, but when Hoffler hit his second 3-pointer of the quarter the Eagle lead was 8-3 at the 5:40 mark. Cedar had trouble solving Juan Diego’s defenses, alternating between a 1-3-1 trap and a man-to-man with someone shadowing Nielson at all times, usually senior guard Jesse Springer.
Juan Diego also double-teamed Staggs whenever the ball entered the post. Nielson scored his first field goal with a rainbow from distance to knot the score at 9-9 with 2:16 to go. The Soaring Eagle would end the quarter with two field goals from Zachary Nickles to give Juan Diego a 13-9 advantage.
“We did not really make any adjustments at halftime,” said Cedar head coach Craig Cardon. “We told the kids they had to settle down. We had 14 turnovers against their press. That’s not us. I think we handled it much better the second half.”
The second quarter dragged at the beginning as neither team was able to find the basket. With 3:33 to go, Juan Diego broke the drought with a Hanson free throw. Cedar got on the board with two minutes to play with a Kyle Wood 3-pointer. Juan Diego would get all of its scoring from the line in the quarter, adding three more free throws from different players. Nielson capped the scoring with a bucket with 45 seconds left. The Eagles held onto the lead, 17-14.
In the third quarter Staggs got on track with two field goals and two from the charity stripe. Nielson also added four from the free throw line while the Redmen defense held Juan Diego to nine points. After three quarters, Cedar led 28-26.
The fourth began much like the second with a scoreless drought from both teams. Staggs’ free throw at the 5:38 mark put the Redmen up three. The teams would trade baskets for the next two minutes and Hansen’s basket with just under three to play pulled the Eagle to within two, 32-30.
Less than a minute later, Nielson fouled Hoffler on a 3-point attempt. Hoffler delivered on two out of three and with 2:05 left, the game was tied. A Springer steal drew a foul from Forsyth and his two free throws gave the Eagles a 34-32 lead with 1:40 to play. Weston Bettridge tied it up at the other end and then Wood stripped Eli Parkin of the ball and outran him for a layup at the other end. With 1:05 to play Cedar had reclaimed the lead. The Redmen would not give it up.
On the ensuing possession, Staggs blocked Parkin’s shot out of bounds. The next play he blocked Alexander Hoffman’s post move, but this time Cedar retained the possession with 40 seconds left. The Eagles were forced to foul and Nielson canned four out of six free throws to put the game away with the final tally of 40-35.
Cedar now faces Region 9 nemesis Snow Canyon. The Warriors have won both matchups by single possessions.
“We know each other. We match-up well with them,” said Cardon. “The question will be who executes better.”
The Eagles were led by Hoffler and Springer with 9 and 8 points respectively. Juan Diego finishes the season 19-6. Nielson led all scorers with 14. Staggs had 9 points for the Redmen. Cedar moves to 15-8.
Cedar and Snow Canyon’s semifinal game is at 5:50 p.m. Friday night.
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Videocast by Andy Griffin, Bryce Griffin, and Amber Green, St. George News
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