SALT LAKE CITY — The Bountiful Braves and Highland Rams played three quarters of close, tough, grind-it-out hoops Friday night, only to see the game decided in a quarter-long free-throw shooting contest.
The Braves were able to connect on 11-of-20, while Highland coolly sunk 18-of-20. The 68-60 win puts Highland in the driver's seat for Region 6, and exacts a certain amount of revenge for an earlier loss at Bountiful.
The star of the night was Highland's Sam Orchard, who tallied 30 points, 18 of which came on 18 attempted free throws. Orchard was pushed to the forefront more than usual thanks to constant foul trouble for Nate Fakahafua, who still managed to spark the team to nine fourth quarter points.
"Losing Nate was huge, but I thought our kids stepped up and did a great job," Highland coach Keith West said after the game. "We always play hard, that's kind of a feature of this team; it's what they do. We have two or three talented players and everyone else plays extremely hard."
The Rams entered the fourth quarter with a 37-36 lead in a game that had seen nine lead changes through the first 24 minutes. Fakahafua, who had played less than a few minutes each quarter with foul trouble, instantly changed the dynamic of the game with his rebounding and driving ability. His first points of the night came on a driving layup to cut a Bountiful lead to 42-41. The Braves maintained the pace initially, as Nick Williams and Dan Prawitt both had timely buckets to knot the score at 48-48.
Then Orchard bounced in a three from straight ahead to earn the Rams a 51-48 lead, which at once inspired Highland and seemed to deflate the Braves. By the time Fakahafua stole the ball and scored a breakaway dunk, the Rams had reeled off eight straight points en route to a 56-48 lead.
Bountiful hung tight, forcing a few turnovers and getting within five points after a John Maxwell three. The Highland win was sealed with a perfect 8-of-8 from the charity stripe in the final minute.
When asked for his secret to free throws, Orchard simply said "I just blank everything out, focus on the shot. That's about it."
The Braves were led by McKay LaSalle and Williams, who finished with 17 and 14 points, respectively. LaSalle in particular was a catalyst in the first half but had trouble connecting in the second half.
The win earns Highland a two-game advantage in Region 6 with three games remaining. Bountiful, despite beating the Rams at home last month, needs to win the rest of its games and hope for upsets to claim the region crown.
"I really think whoever comes out number one in this region has got a great chance to win the whole thing," West said.