TAYLORSVILLE — Springville's Mackenzie Nielsen was just playing defense.
She was on the block with her back to the basket, a step off of Sky View forward Linsey Walker, who had the ball. Walker spun to face the basket and her elbow met Nielsen square in the eye.
"It wasn't a cheap shot," Nielsen said after the Red Devils eked out the 53-49 victory on Friday afternoon. "She was apologizing."
It wasn't a cheap shot, but in a game that saw 41 total fouls and 53 free throws, it was the nature of a very physical semifinal showdown.
"The game was physical," Springville head coach Nancy Warner said, "because it was two great teams who play good defense."
After using an 8-0 run at the start of the second quarter, the Red Devils held a substantial, 28-12 lead at the midpoint. It was less than a minute into the third period when Walker connected with Nielsen's face. The Springville senior then ran across the court to notify the official she was bleeding.
"I couldn't feel the cut on my eyelid and I thought it was sweat dripping down my face until I whipped it away," she said. Nielsen came out of the game just long enough for the team trainer to bandage her up, and then she reentered to finish with eight points and seven rebounds.
Just after Nielsen went to the bench, Springville's Lexi Eaton was hit with a frustration technical. It was blessing in disguise for the Red Devils, as Eaton bounced back with a new level of determination.
The very next play, Eaton controlled the ball, went the length of the court, and finished with a finger-roll layup.
"Lexi is good at refocusing," Nielsen said of her teammate. "She's good at not losing her head when everyone is bashing."
The defending Deseret News Ms. Basketball finished with 30 points, eight rebounds, two blocks, one assist and one steal.
"The team relies on her," Warner said. "We look to her for her scoring ability, and she does what she needs to for the team to be successful."
The key for the Red Devils, however, is to focus on their defense.
"It's where our offense comes from," Nielsen said.
Her coach added that, "the goal is to play team defense. It doesn't matter where our scoring comes from."
The Bobcats used a 17-point third quarter to pull back into the game and trailed by just nine points to start the fourth quarter. They went on to score big in the final period, totaling 20 points, and pulled within four points with 51.3 second left on the clock.
Eaton hit five free throws in the final minute — she was 14-for-20 on the night — to seal the victory. Dannika Web nailed a long-distance 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it only pulled her team to a four-point loss.
Madison Day notched a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double for Sky View and Dannika Webb finished with 12 points, three boards, three assists and four steals.
Springville will meet the Mountain Crest Mustangs in the championship today at 11 a.m. at the Salt Lake Community College. The Red Devils edged Mountain Crest by nine in early December, but, as Nielsen stated, both teams have had many months of growth since then.
"Anything can happen," she said, "so we've got to come prepared."
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