Mike Terry, Deseret News
RICHFIELD — In one unbelievably perfect game, so many things came together at once for Piute's girls basketball team.
A quest to win a state championship for a group of seniors that had been playing competitive basketball together since they were in the sixth grade. A quest to win a state championship after coming up heartbreakingly close on so many previous occasions. A quest to play their best basketball on the biggest stage and to prove to the rest of Class 1A that they were indeed its best team this year. A quest to complete a perfect season with a perfect record. A quest to win their school's first girls basketball state title in school history.
Having any one of those things happen would've been indescribably sweet for the Thunderbirds. But to have them all happen at once?
It was, quite simply, something else.
Completing a dream season with a fairy tale ending, Piute stormed to the 1A girls basketball championship on Saturday inside the Sevier Valley Center.
Matched up against a tough bunch from Duchesne, the Thunderbirds came out flying and simply obliterated the Eagles. Deseret News All-tournament MVP Kandice Gleave poured in a game-high 25 points and fellow stars Loni Allan and Amanda Bagley added 16 and 15, respectively, as Piute sensationally doubled up Duchesne, 68-34, in the state championship game to truly leave no doubt about whom the best team in Class 1A was this year.
And in the process, the T-Birds completed a perfect 24-0 season and clinched the first girls basketball state championship in Piute High history.
"We wanted it so bad, and so we just decided we were gonna come together as a team," said Bagley. "Once we got going, we just let 'em have it. We didn't slow down for one second."
No, they didn't.
With Gleave leading the way for her talented supporting cast to follow closely behind, Piute came storming out of the gates on Saturday and never looked back. The T-Birds led 19-9 at the end of the first quarter, 41-20 at halftime, 55-25 at the end of the third quarter and 62-25 early in the fourth when coach Wade Westwood took most of his starters out of the game.
"Pretty much," said Allan, "we had our heads in the game the whole time. We didn't overlook 'em, we just decided to play our game and focus on — not the crowd — just (doing) our best."
Piute played very tense and tight through most of its semifinal showdown against Rich, a team that had had its number in previous year. But once they got through that game, there was no looking back.
Westwood first noticed that his girls seemed loose in the locker-room after the Rich win, and it certainly carried over to Saturday's title tilt.
Before the semifinals (on Friday), "when I walked on the bus, I could tell that there was some jitters," said Westwood. "Today, they were calm, they were cool and there was a different feeling. You could tell that they had that look in their eye that, 'Hey, we've come this far, we're gonna finish it.'"
The T-Birds' formula to finally get past Rich in the fourth quarter of the semifinals was to create havoc with their press and to execute with precision on offense.
In the championship game, they applied that formula from start to finish. The results were pretty devastating, especially with Gleave doing what she did.
Looking completely comfortable on the biggest stage of her life, Gleave turned in a sensational performance in all aspects to lead her school to a championship in her final high school game.
Besides scoring 25 points, she was stellar on defense, she consistently crashed the boards and she led her team with supreme confidence.
"Oh my gosh, I love that girl. I don't know what we'd do without her. There wasn't one defender on the court that could've stopped her tonight," said Bagley. "She definitely had one of the best games of her life."
As did Piute's team, and now the T-Birds can say for the rest of their lives that they're state champs.
Deseret News 1A girls All-Tournament team
MVP: Kandice Gleave, Piute
Loni Allan, Piute
Amanda Bagley, Piute
Tasha Reilley, Duchesne
Kalani Norris, Panguitch
Ashley Argyle, Rich
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