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TAYLORSVILLE — The Cavemen have been battle tested over and over again this year coming out of a very tough Region 4.
They have beaten several quality teams and have suffered narrow losses to some of the best in the state — including Lone Peak and Riverton. The team finished with four losses in region play and three came at a margin of five or less.
As evidenced in their 55-44 win over Hunter in the first round on Tuesday, taking lumps throughout the season has its benefits come playoff time.
One of those benefits was preparation for Hunter sharpshooter, Desiree Ramos.
"Every night (in Region 4) you're going to have a player like Desiree or someone similar to deal with," American Fork head coach Corey Clayton said.
In the first half, the Cavemen played a man-to-man defense and Ramos was able to break loose and get things going — she scored 14 points in the half. However, the talented point guard experienced a much quieter second half when Clayton switched the defense to a triangle-and-two zone.
"It confused them long enough for us to get a little bit of distance," he said.
The Cavemen built on their lead in the third before enjoying an 8-0 run in the fourth quarter. They refused to let up despite the Wolverines' unrelenting efforts. Hunter was able to cut the deficit to seven, but it was forced to foul and American Fork widened the gap from the charity stripe.
Ashley Baugh and Cassidy Fraughton demonstrated their athleticism as they dominated offensively for the Cavemen. The two combined for 32 points in the win — Fraughton led with 18 while Baugh contributed 14.
"They're both really good players," Clayton said. "As soon as they figure out how good I think they are and play like that consistently, they'll be like the players you're talking about this year in the tournament (referring to the tournament standouts)."
Another big contributor in the Cavemen victory was Sadie Williams. Williams was injured in American Fork's senior game last week and has been unable to practice. Tuesday was the first time she saw action since the injury, and the senior scored 12 points.
For Hunter, Ramos was the tenacious leader and the one that kept them in the game early on. It was Hurija Mustafic, however, that drained two 3-pointers in the fourth to give the Cavemen a scare. Tess Matagi proved an offensive spark as well, finishing with nine points in the loss.
The Cavemen advance to the second round where they'll take on the Alta Hawks.
They barely beat the Hawks in the last meeting between the two teams in the preseason (63-60), and coach Clayton looks forward to seeing them in the tournament.
"We're really excited for the challenge to play Alta again."