RICHFIELD — Liahona's players and coaches had been preparing for Wednesday night's playoff game against Whitehorse ever since their fledgling program came into existence a year-and-a-half ago.
Whether it was competing as hard as they could at the JV level during a probationary period last year or scheduling an extremely difficult preseason this year or overcoming the loss of their star for a big chunk of the regular season, the Warriors have simply prepared as much as they could for their big moment on the big stage.
That moment finally arrived on Wednesday night inside the Sevier Valley Center, and the Warriors came through big time.
Matched up against the never-say-die team also known as Whitehorse, Liahona gutted out a first-round playoff victory in the school's first year of varsity basketball.
Star guard Brayden Facemyer scored a game-high 21 points, Brandon Nichols added 20 and Matt Feinauer chipped in 18 as the Warriors survived a wild finish to win, 62-60, in the opening round of the 1A boys basketball tournament.
"We feel like we showed up," said Liahona coach Jeremy Long. "We've wanted to prove that we can play, that this region can play and (that) we're up there with the best. And I think they did that."
It certainly wasn't easy — not that Long nor anyone else from Liahona thought it would be.
Against Whitehorse, momentum swung back and forth wildly throughout. Both teams traded leads from start to finish, and it wasn't until a Whitehorse desperation shot at the buzzer hit the side of the rim that Liahona knew it had won.
"I told them at halftime, 'This is becoming a game of runs,' " said Long. "We went up, they went up, we went up, they went up. We were down at half, and then we went on an 11-0 run out of the half, and then they came back.
"I looked at my assistant coach up by eight with a minute-and-a-half left and said, 'Unfortunately, this is gonna come down to the end,' and it did."
Ultimately, though, Facemyer and Co. made just enough plays to survive and advance.
Facemyer scored eight of his 21 points in the fourth, and the Warriors found ways to win a playoff game in their first season of varsity of basketball.
"Teamwork wins games, and I think that showed tonight," said Facemyer. "Just a lot of hours in practice and blood, sweat and tears went into this."
All of that was required to edge Whitehorse, a team that Long heaped praise on afterward. Shawn Dickson and Tavis Martin each had 18 points for the Raiders, who did what they seemingly always do at the 1A tournament — they put on a show for everyone else.
In particular, Long was wowed by the play of Dickson.
"That Dickson is the best guard in the state, period," said Long. "5A or 4A, he's incredible. People just don't give credit to 1A, but kids play wherever they are. And this kid is wow. Wow, that's all that I can say."
Liahona now moves on to face Rich in the 1A quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Thursday, and Long believes his guys will be ready to go.
"We're not scared of Rich," said Long. "We've played them. We hung with them up there; we can hang with them here."
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