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WEST VALLEY CITY — The Silverwolves definitely picked a great time to play great.
In what has been an up-and-down, roller-coaster season for the boys basketball team from Riverton High, they poured in 35 fourth-quarter points to rally from a 10-point deficit and stunned Alta, 65-57, in the quarterfinals of the 5A state tournament Thursday afternoon at the Maverik Center.
With its sixth straight win, Riverton (13-10) — which claimed the last state playoff spot from Region 4 in the final week of the regular season — rolls into the 5A semifinals on Friday night at 7:15 p.m. against Brighton.
The Bengals advanced with a 59-53 victory over American Fork.
"You wish you knew how those things happen and how it changes so fast," said Riverton coach Steve Galley. "We've been on the other end of that, too, where you have a lead the whole game and you get down and all of a sudden you don't feel comfortable. And you're a little out of rhythm on your shots. It was a very weird turnaround.
"We've beaten some of the best teams in the state and we've also been blown out by people. We've been an inconsistent team, but our team is confident playing against anybody because we have played with everybody. We've been in games and beaten good teams.
"You get to the state tournament and get to the quarterfinals, all the teams you're gonna play are solid teams," Galley said. "And we figure the pressure's on those (other) guys, so we want to play 'em."
Riverton trailed 40-30 going into the fourth quarter of Thursday's game, and Alta (17-6) seemed to have things well in hand.
But the Silverwolves' D McCleary, Bryce Stone and Stephan Holm had other ideas.
Holm's putback basket started an 8-1 Riverton run to begin the final period, slashing the Hawks' lead to 41-38. Then, after Alta's Trevor Hill scored on a drive to temporarily stop the bleeding, Stone stuck a pair of huge 3-pointers which, sandwiched around Holm's two free throws, fueled an 8-0 spurt that put the 'Wolves ahead 46-43 — their first lead since the second quarter.
Then McCleary took over, scoring nine points in a 31/2-minute stretch — including 7-of-7 free throws — in an 18-10 Riverton run. Holm contributed five huge points during the Silverwolves' decisive surge which, along with a pair of free throws apiece by Nathan Erickson and Stone, gave Riverton an 11-point lead at 64-53 with 19.8 seconds left.
And with that, the 'Wolves were soon headed to the semis — with the Hawks headed home.
McCleary, a 6-foot senior guard, scored 28 points — half of them coming in the fourth quarter, and 22 of them in the second half. He was 12-of-13 from the foul line.
"Bryce makes me laugh every time I'm at the free-throw line," McCleary said. "We have all these inside jokes, and it keeps me calm."
Holm scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth-period surge, and he also had six rebounds, while Stone added 11 points and a game-high eight boards.
"We just started executing plays," McCleary said of the Silverwolves' amazing fourth-quarter comeback. "After the end of the third quarter, we tried to whittle the lead down little by little, we didn't have to get it all at once. So we just did that and executed plays.
"I didn't want it to be my last game. It's me and Austin's (Anderson) senior year and we just really didn't want it to end now. We knew we could play with anybody and we knew we weren't playing that good up to the end of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, we just turned it on."
For Alta, Jarrett Anderson had 13 points and seven rebounds, Dub Price chipped in with 12 points and Zack Zdunich added 11 more. Galley said his team's offensive execution and excellent foul shooting — during one impressive fourth-quarter stretch, they made 16 straight free throws — were the keys to the turnaround.
"We got the attack to the paint — finally — and I thought that gave us a boost along with Bryce's two 3s," he said. "Then all of a sudden, they're missing and we're rebounding, which we weren't doing earlier when they were missing and getting offensive rebounds and more chances.4 comments on this story
"And then we had the foul count in our favor and we're a really good free-throw shooting team, especially D. D's a 90 percent free-throw shooter; he wants the ball in his hands and, if you foul him, he's going to make 'em. In fact, we're mad at him because he had one miss tonight. I think it was the third quarter, but he's probably going to have to run some extra sprints for that," Galley joked.
He had nothing but high praise for his senior point guard.
"When I saw D as a 9th-grader in a couple of Summer Games, you could just tell what a tough kid with guts and heart he had," Galley said. "He's our glue; he's the leader.
"What I love about him is he really just does it with his play. He's not a flashy guy. He's not a yacker. He just goes out and plays."