ST. GEORGE — For three and a half quarters, Dixie and Pine View played like two teams fighting for their playoff lives. Then the Flyers and Panthers spent the final four minutes of Wednesday's crosstown clash trying to give the game away.
Ultimately, Dixie won at home 38-34, staking a solid claim on Region 9's final playoff spot. But it wasn't easy.
"We knew it was going to be a game like this," Flyers guard Blake Barney said. "Hey, it was fun. A packed house, the student sections going back and forth, a close, physical game. I loved it."
Dixie coach Ryan Cuff wasn't as enamored with the closeness of the game. His team beat Pine View by 15 at the Panther's Pit Gymnasium a couple of weeks ago.
"I give a lot of credit to Pine View," he said. "They've really come together as a team the last few games and they put it to us for awhile tonight. They put us in a tough spot."
That tough spot was a fourth-quarter deficit. In fact, Pine View allowed the Flyers just four points in the third quarter, including one Kyler Smith field goal and two Barney free throws.
"We just had to keep our composure," Smith said. "Don't panic and take care of the ball was what we focused on in the fourth quarter."
Pine View led 30-27 going into the final period, but Barney slashed inside, absorbed some contact and scored off the glass. His ensuing free throw completed the three-point play and tied the game.
The Panthers responded with the first of what would be just two baskets for them the entire fourth quarter when Collin Dowdell made a nice post move over Smith with 4:40 left in the game.
At that point, a pair of stellar plays by Dixie junior point guard Jordan Hall would change the game for good. Hall, the shortest player on the court, slashed inside and hit a bucket amongst Pine View's tall trees, making it 32-32 with 3:50 to go. Seconds later, he stole an errant Pine View pass and scored an easy layup to give Dixie a lead it would never surrender.
However, the Flyers were anything but solid in trying to put the game away. Dixie made just 2 of 7 free throws in the final three minutes and missed three straight front ends of one-and-ones.
The Panthers matched Dixie's futility at the line by turning the ball over repeatedly late in the game.
Down 37-34 with under 20 seconds left, Pine View tried a little too hard to get the ball to sharpshooter Jack Bangerter. Dixie poked the ball away and Smith hit a free throw to push the lead to four with 10 seconds left.
"We really tried to value the ball, probably a little more than them," Barney said. "That was important for us in the fourth quarter."
The Flyers, 9-12 overall, but 6-5 in region, have clinched the No. 4 seed out of Region 9. Smith had 15 points to lead Dixie.
Andy Griffin is the sports editor of the southern Utah website STGnews.com.