SALT LAKE CITY — Maple Mountain head coach Cory Green's instructions from the sideline focused on one key ingredient throughout the entire 32 minutes.
Green knew just how important a role defense plays when two teams are as evenly matched as the Golden Eagles and the Bountiful Braves.
Both have several players capable of getting to the basket. Both are able to shift the momentum and enjoy long runs.
Despite the even match-up, the Golden Eagles soared to a 61-53 victory over the Braves with a well-distributed scoring effort. Aleksa Gappmayer posted 21 points in the win.
The game had several late lead changes, and every time the Golden Eagles let their guard down, a Bountiful attack ensued. In fact, Maple Mountain struggled on defense in the first quarter and Bountiful had an advantage.
The Braves got off to a fast start with a strong in-and-out game — finding the cutters and kicking it out for the open jumper when the middle was congested. Taylor Boroson and Abbey Wilson each had four in the quarter.
On the defensive end early, the Braves forced turnovers with an aggressive full-court press. Despite Maple Mountain's experience with pressure, playoff nerves seemed to seep through the cracks.
"We've seen good presses all year long," coach Green said. "It was something we should have been used to but we panicked a bit."
The Golden Eagles regained composure halfway through the second quarter, navigating the press and stepping up their defense. Gappmayer was a spark seemingly each time the Golden Eagles needed a pick-me-up.
"She has a calming influence," Green said. "A real court sense."
Maple Mountain enjoyed a small run and led 25-22 at halftime.
The Golden Eagles carried that momentum into the third, showing off their depth — something that greatly benefited them in the tight game, according to Green.
"It's hard for a team to key in on any one person," he said. "We're multi-dimensional and very deep. When you're playing potentially four games in six days, that becomes a larger benefit as the week progresses."
The Braves tied it up, 27-27 in the first couple minutes before the Golden Eagles went on a 10-0 run. Despite the surge, the contest was far from over.
Bountiful capitalized on another Maple Mountain defensive let down, tying it up once more. Brianna Rolf cut the deficit first with two free throws and then evened the score with a rebound and strong put back on the next possession. Both teams took turns carrying the lead over the next few minutes.
Green called a timeout to stress, yet again, the importance of defense. "The girls got a little bit complacent in the fourth quarter. (They) thought maybe the game was over before it was over," he said.
That timeout was all it took. Maple Mountain enjoyed a scoring surge free throws whens Bountiful was forced to foul.
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Maple Mountain 61