4A girls basketball playoffs: Top-seeded Pine View, Desert Hills upset in semifinals, sent packing

RICHFIELD — As the top two seeds in the girls 4A tournament, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect either Pine View or Desert Hills to reach the state finals game, if not both.

Pine View basketball players exit the court after falling in the semifinal round of the state playoffs to No. 5 Logan, Sevier Valley Center, Richfield, Utah, March 2, 2021 | Photo by Rich Allen, St. George News

Both had legitimate reasons to believe they would be the last team standing at the end. But now, neither will even play on the tourney’s last day. The two teams both lost to lower seeds in upset fashion in back-to-back games Tuesday afternoon at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield, ending their respective seasons. Each trailed by three points at the final horn, one basket away from pressing onward.

First, No. 1 Pine View battled back from a 19-point halftime deficit, only to fall 71-68 to No. 5 Logan in overtime. Then, No. 2 Desert Hills never found its rhythm and fell 44-41 to No. 6 Sky View.

Pine View could not get organized in the first half. Logan scored nine unanswered points to begin the contest. Amber Kartchner started all the scoring with a 3-pointer. She’d go on to score 19 in the first half alone, just shy of Pine View’s entire effort as a team over that time by three points. Kartchner ended the game with 38 points total.

“It wasn’t what we did, it was how we did it,” Pine View head coach Ben Luce said. “There were just a few fundamental things we weren’t doing. As soon as we calmed down and started playing better defense, it was better.”

The Panthers entered the third quarter with more than a little work to do, down 41-22. But go to work they did.

No. 1 Pine View basketball vs. No. 5 Logan, 4A state basketball playoffs, Sevier Valley Center, Richfield, Utah, March 2, 2021 | Photo by Rich Allen, St. George News

After trading baskets to make the score 48-30, the Panthers went on an 18-point run to draw even. Emma Jensen landed from the arc to make it a whole new ballgame. Kartchner landed a deuce in the final seconds to put the Grizzlies back up entering the fourth quarter, but Pine View had managed to come all the way back and momentum was on their side.

Pine View took its first lead at 56-55 with 3:24 to play as senior center Averi Papa used her height advantage to get a lead pass in the post for an easy lay-in.

From there, the teams battled to a 62-62 tie. The Grizzlies had a chance to win it with a pair of free throw opportunities with two seconds left in regulation, but bricked them both to send the game to overtime.

Pine View guard Alex Olson started the extra period with her fifth 3-pointer of the game before Kartchner answered with two straight baskets. She converted the 3-point play later after hitting the and-one free throw to make the score 69-68 and hit another free throw later for good measure to reach the final score. Olson had a chance to tie it in the final seconds driving the post but could not force a shot through the net through traffic.

Papa scored 25 for Pine View and Olson scored 20 in their final game as Panthers, ending an era on maybe the most dynamic inside-and-out dual threat in Region 9 and possibly the state of Utah. Aly Schmitt added 15 points for Pine View.

In the second semifinal game, Desert Hills also overcame a slow start en route to heartbreak. The Thunder trailed 11-4 after the first quarter, failing to score from the field entirely. Sky View didn’t score much either in the early going with just three points through the first five minutes. It wouldn’t be until Enid Vaifanua drained a 3-pointer around a minute into the second quarter that the Thunder would record a field goal.

No. 2 Desert Hills basketball vs. No. 6 Sky View, 4A state basketball playoffs, Sevier Valley Center, Richfield, Utah, March 2, 2021 | Photo by Rich Allen, St. George News

Although the Thunder trailed 22-16 at the half, they claimed the first six points of the second half, bringing the game to a draw at the 4:30 mark of the third quarter on an Alivia Cluff basket. Vaifanua gave the Thunder their first lead with another perimeter score around three minutes later to make it 29-26. Even then, Desert Hills seemed to be in a funk, missing opportunities they routinely made throughout the season. The Bobcats rallied and took a 31-29 lead into the last frame.

“Offensively, it was weird,” Desert Hills head coach Ron Denos said. “They just kept looking at me and kind of didn’t know. We were standing so much. We’re never a team that stands. We’re always moving and doing things. I don’t know if we were tired or what it was. We just didn’t have the energy and I don’t know why … I can’t say they didn’t play hard. It just didn’t work for them. The harder they went, it seemed like the worse it got.”

In the fourth quarter, Sky View canceled out any momentum the Thunder built. The Bobcats hit a trio of 3-pointers, each putting them in front from either a tie or a one-to-two-point trail. The game stayed within one possession on the scoreboard down the stretch.

Sky View led 42-41 with two minutes on the clock and went into time-wasting mode. The Thunder had plenty of fouls to give but opted for a full press and double-team of the ball carrier, trying to take possession cleanly. That left a Bobcat open in the post for an easy layup, 44-41.

On Desert Hills’ final possession, Vaifanua had the ball in the corner in the final seconds with a chance to tie. One of the better 3-point shooters in the region, it was who Denos had wanted to have the ball. However, in matching fashion with the way things had gone for the Thunder throughout the game, Vaifanua’s last shot attempt hit the side of the backboard, something she may not have done all season.

Enid Vaifanua, No. 2 Desert Hills basketball vs. No. 6 Sky View, 4A state basketball playoffs, Sevier Valley Center, Richfield, Utah, March 2, 2021 | Photo by Rich Allen, St. George News

“She was kind of out of it today,” Denos said. “She wasn’t herself.”

Evidently, neither was the rest of the team.

Shailee Bundy led Desert Hills with 12 points, while Vaifanua finished with 10.

The two titans of Region 9 thus toppled, Region 11 rivals Logan and Sky View will meet instead in Wednesday’s championship game at noon.

Pine View and Desert Hills had defined the upper class in Region 9 play this season, with the Thunder going undefeated and Pine View’s only two losses coming to them. Third-place Cedar finished 8-6.

Up in the northern end of the state, Logan went 8-2 in Region 11 and Sky View went 6-4, constantly playing in closer games. Outside of Desert Hills’ overtime win over Pine View on Jan. 14, neither team played a region game decided by fewer than 14 points except for Pine View’s 42-37 victory over Dixie on Feb. 18.

For Denos, that may have made a difference.

“They had four teams they had to battle all the time. We had two we had to battle,” Denos said. “hey had game after game after game where you’re in this battle. We didn’t have very many games where we had to battle. There’s a lot to be said for that, to learn how to win those type of games and make decisions to learn from those situations.”

It may be too soon to tell, but Region 9’s parity may increase next season with the graduation of the likes of star players Papa and Olson from Pine View and Bundy from Desert Hills. They are among the numerous Region 9 seniors who won’t be back when next year’s season starts. It’ll be a long summer until then.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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