ST. GEORGE — After the Panthers took down No. 2 Ridgeline on Thursday night, their team began to file into the locker room, and you could hear the excitement. As some of the coaches came out, they began to yell that they weren’t supposed to beat a Ridgeline team that lost to Cedar last year in the Class 4A finals. You could definitely say the Panthers were the underdog.
The problem with that label is the fact that they are loaded with talent. They faced some struggles this season with Sophie Jensen missing a month and a half, but they showed their talent against Desert Hills and Snow Canyon twice. Head coach Ben Luce said his team believed they could win the game from the moment they got on the bus.
“We knew they were a good team and it wasn’t going to be easy,” Luce said. “We came out that first two or three sets of the second half and ran a couple sets for Ellie (Wilson), and she hit two threes. We went from down five to up one just like that. The start of that second half, when we saw those two shots down, we knew we could fire them.”
Pretty much everyone thought Ridgeline would advance past the Panthers, and Pine View player Averi Papa said the team noticed the things that were being said.
“We saw all of the articles and everything written about us and how Ridgeline was supposed to beat us,” she said. “If you look at all of the box scores and everything, they may look like the better team, but it’s heart over everything.”
The Panthers showed that heart by grinding out a one-point win.
Ellie Wilson finished with 13 points to lead the team, while Alex Olson added 11 points. The posts down low contributed in a big way, with Averi Papa and Alyson Schmitt scoring 10 points each. Papa had a double double with 12 rebounds, while Schmitt almost had one with nine rebounds.
Schmitt stepped up in a big way, literally and figuratively, with Leiani Tonga having a lingering ankle issue. She did a great job rotating over on Ridgeline’s post player Emma Anderson to take her out of the game.
Luce said it feels like the team is starting to peak at the right time.
“Regardless of how we’ve played in the past or what region we came from, what matters is who is going to play better this week,” he said. “If we can do that again tomorrow against either one of these teams we’ll have another fighting chance.”
The saying around Region 9 all year has been “We want to play our best basketball at the end of the year.” It looks like Pine View wasn’t playing when that came up in the preseason. They are truly playing their best basketball now, but their connection as a team has been evident all season, and Papa showed that after the game.
When asked about how much the win meant for their team, Papa started to get emotional.
“I don’t know, it’s so hard to put into words just because we’ve all worked so hard to get here, and our seniors deserve the world,” she said. “All of them have got us through some stuff, so it’s just a good overall team win and to know that everyone contributed – it wasn’t just one person. That’s when we play our best.”
Now the Panthers will move on to face Desert Hills for the third time. When talking about the upcoming matchup, Luce joked that they owed them one, but in reality they owe Desert Hills two games.
The first time they played, Desert Hills stole one from the Panthers at Pine View in double overtime. The next time the two teams met at Desert Hills, the Thunder won by just two points. Both games were decided by a combined seven points, and Pine View could have won either.
The idea of the Panthers being underrated has been a big topic throughout the season, but Luce said that when you get this far into the playoffs the seedings all blend together. It’s similar to the NCAA national tournament. When you get down to the final eight teams, it doesn’t really matter about seedings because each team is playing their highest level of basketball at that moment.
Papa and her squad were ecstatic after the game and clearly wanted another shot at Desert Hills, and they got it. The two teams will face off Friday at 4:10 p.m. with a berth to the championship game on the line.
“I’m so excited,” Papa said. “It’s going to be huge. Just because we’ve played them twice, anything can happen, and we don’t want to take anyone for granted. We’ve just got to focus in and make sure we know our personnel.”
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