BOUNTIFUL ?— The Olympus Titans weren't the team with the perfect record. They weren't the team with the top-five ranking, and they weren't defending their home court.
And while all of that might make some feel like underdogs, it actually set the young squad free from any pressure.
"We felt like we had nothing to lose," said Olympus head coach Kael Ashton after the Titans came back from a 10-point deficit and an abysmal third quarter to hand third-ranked Bountiful its first loss this season in a 52-50 thriller.
"When you're up by 10 points with four minutes left, it shouldn't come down to a prayer," said Bountiful head coach Joel Burton. "We're still in control of our own destiny, and hopefully we can refocus."
Burton continuously admonished his young players to slow down, take their time. But the Braves love to run, and Tuesday night it worked against them for the first time this season.
"We want to play fast, but not too fast," Burton said. "Our kids just lost their composure. Instead of using the clock to their advantage, they forced things. We played faster than we needed to."
The rush to shoot was caused — at least in part — by the tremendous pressure Olympus came up with in the fourth quarter. While it was Bountiful flustering the Titan guards in the third quarter and part of the fourth, Olympus managed to turn the tables on the Braves just when it mattered most.
"We really thought we could run the floor against them," said Ashton of the team's game plan. "We did that and we got some good, easy looks. That really fueled us early on."
The Titans also outrebounded the Braves, especially offensively. While Olympus' shooters had two, and sometimes three chances to score in the first half, Bountiful usually got one shot off.
In the second half, the Braves coupled their frenetic defense, including a half-court trap, with much more respectable rebounding. The result was a 10-point lead with six minutes left in the game.
That's about the time Ashton was called for a technical after complaining that officials missed fouls near the Olympus basket. The coach sat down and his girls stepped up.
"When you see your coach get a technical, it means we know he is as frustrated as us, and that we'd better pull together as a team," said Arielle Meredith, the team's lone senior.
Added junior co-captain Janie Egan, "Last year they lost because we shot a technical on them. We didn't want that to happen to us."
Both teams played tremendous defense and made the other work for any and every offensive opportunity. The Titans were led by Morgan Oliphant, a junior, who scored 14 points, and Jennifer Nichols, who added 11 points and was huge in sparking the comeback.
But it was freshman Rachel VanderToolen who got to be the hero of the game — just a couple of hours after a bitter disappointment.
The freshman plays on Olympus' junior varsity team, which played immediately before the varsity contest. The Titans lost — for the first time this season — and VanderToolen said the younger players, many of whom see varsity minutes, were very upset and discouraged.
It was a pep-talk from Egan, asking them to "keep their focus," that helped her play forward.
In the end, she hit an improbable 3-point shot that gave Olympus a 51-50 lead.
"I just got the biggest adrenaline rush of my life," she said, surrounded by her giddy teammates.
Nichols would hit a free throw to make it 52-50, and a last-second shot by Bountiful bounced off the backboard.
The Braves were led by Tayler Boroson, who scored 15 points, and Bailey Furmanski, who added 10 points, in the loss.