ST. GEORGE — Cedar and Crimson Cliffs played each other tough all season. In the first two contests, the aggregate score was plus-three for the Mustangs. Neither was decided by more than five points. Naturally, on the biggest stage the team’s could meet on, it would be more of the same, although it didn’t appear it would be that way at first.
The No. 3 Mustangs jumped out to an 8-1 lead and 20-9 by the end of the first quarter. Hudson Hawes landed a pair of 3-pointers early and helped Crimson stretch out an early lead. Defensively, the team held Region 9’s top offense to single digits and extended their lead to as many as 16 points in the first half.
No. 6 Cedar came all the way back and needed every one of the 32 minutes in the game to claim the victory and advance, taking the team’s first lead on a Ty Harrison put-back with 10 seconds to play. Harrison turned the ball over before watching Gaige Savage charge through the paint and toss the ball off the backboard, leaping over Crimson’s Jordan Eaton and slamming the ball through the hoop to give Cedar the 63-62 lead.
“What a spectacular play by Ty Harrison,” Cedar head coach Mark Esplin said. “He comes back and follows and they foul him at the end. What a great performance by a gutsy junior.”
Cedar entered the second half down by 10, 37-27. Crimson’s lethal shooters were doing their thing. But Cedar is just as lethal with the ball.
The Reds knotted the game at 41 in the third on a pair of Gaige Savage free throws. Then, Zab Santana gave the Reds the lead with a 3-pointer, 44-43. Crimson responded by taking the next eight points and led 51-46 at the third intermission.
Cedar stormed out of the gate in the fourth, taking the first 10 points and the lead after a trio of Ty Harrison free throws and a layup by Santana. Santana also hit a 3-pointer to give Cedar another lead at 57-54. He also played a role in quelling a hot Crimson offense with Treyton Tebbs in foul trouble.
“Zab Santana is a clutch player,” Esplin said. “He shoots some nice shots. He actually was really good in the first half as far as making some offensive things happen. He said, ‘Coach, I want Trei Rockhill in the second half,’ who I think is a really phenomenal player. I thought he did a great job on him in the end.”
The team exchanged leads several times before a more experienced Cedar team used double-bonus free throws to pull away. Trei Rockhill just missed a game-winning 3-pointer for Crimson Cliffs in the final seconds.
Santana for the Reds and Rockhill and Hawes for Crimson all tied for the game lead with 16 points each. Hawes landed five buckets from the arc. For Cedar, Tebbs and Dallin Grant also reached double-digit points with 12 and 10, respectively. For Crimson, Cole Sampson scored 13 and Brock Felder scored 11.
In Crimson’s second year as a program, the team comes up just short of a semifinal.
“It’s huge for us,” Crimson Cliffs head coach Kasey Winters said. “Not just how many games we won but just the growth we were able to make this year as a program as far as what’s expected, how hard they’re expected to play and what it takes to get this point, to compete with a Dixie, a Cedar, a Desert Hills, night in and night out.”
Cedar pulls off a gutsy performance against an equal opponent to advance to the next round.
“I was proud of them,” Esplin said. “They battled. We got the lead, we lost it, we got it back, they tie it up. It’s a great game. It’s a great win. Somewhere along the line, we’ve got to get lucky, and I think we got lucky on a couple breaks. But that’s what it takes to get there.”
Cedar will play No. 7 Ridgeline on Tuesday in the semifinals. The Riverhawks upset No. 2 Dixie on Monday in overtime. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The full boys tournament bracket can be found here.
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