AMERICAN FORK – When American Fork coach Doug Meacham thinks his young team needs a spark, he knows he can call on senior Alex Ross for help.
For three years, Ross has been doing whatever has been asked. Wednesday night, he nailed a pair of 3-pointers during a first-quarter scoring run to help lift American Fork past Brighton 64-52 in Region 4 action.
“I’d like to play him more, but we need him to be that guy,” Meacham said. “We should have played him more tonight, but my assistants are in charge of substituting. I blame them.”
That last comment was more of a joke. Meacham could afford to laugh after American Fork improved to 15-3 overall and 8-1 in region. The Cavemen are in second place and have a two-game lead over Alta with just three regular-season games remaining.
“This game gives us a good shot at a No. 1 or 2 seed in the (5A state) tournament,” Meacham said. “We haven’t done that for a while.”
The Cavemen blew Brighton out early by building the lead up to 19 points behind timely scoring by Ross (13 points), Austin Waddoups (11), Marcel Davis (11) and Michael Wells (10). In the first half, American Fork held Brighton to 28 percent shooting (7-of-25), dominated the boards and seemed destined for an easy victory.
“We had no passion for the first 10 minutes and then we played as hard as we could for the last 16,” said Brighton coach Lyndon Johnson. “We acted like we didn’t want to play.”
The Bengals finally put together a frantic rally in the final quarter. Corbin Miller, Brandon Miller and Loi Masina keyed the spurt, and Brighton finally started applying the pressure defense that it’s known for playing.
“I still think we’re one of the top teams in the state, but only when we play the game like we’re supposed to,” Johnson said.
Brighton forced several turnovers, and American Fork helped by missing its free throws. Bryce Calahan’s basket got the Bengals to within nine points with about a minute to left.
Quincy Bair’s basket ended the threat, and let American Fork fans rest easy again.
Meacham, however, figured this game was a lesson for his team, which has already clinched a state-tourney berth for the first time in four years.
“We’re going to have to learn to finish up,” he said. “In the tournament, we’re going to play teams who are going to play us physical. We need to step on the gas when we need to.”
Meacham admitted this win came easier than expected, especially after American Fork surprised the Bengals with a convincing 61-53 win on Brighton’s home court last month.
Until the final quarter, the only excitement for Brighton fans came when senior center Austin Hudson entered the game after missing the last three with a sprained ankle.
Johnson said Hudson still isn’t at full strength, but he had his moments, finishing with six points and seven rebounds.
Bruce Smith is owner of Matchup, a Utah-based company that provides high school sports teams with various publications. For information, see www.matchupUT.com.