TAYLORSVILLE — It would have been easy to settle.
Instead, the Clearfield Falcons set their sights on doing something they haven't done in years — win a playoff game.
"We talked before the tournament about not being satisfied with just getting here," said Clearfield head coach Rebecca Parker after the Falcons won their 4A first-round playoff game 50-40 over Murray on Tuesday morning. "But this started back in April, during summer play. I knew this team could be competitive. And that's one of the biggest building blocks is being able to compete."
When rebuilding a program, it helps to have players who aren't afraid of setting lofty goals and then putting in the work to achieve them. "It does help to have kids that work," Parker said.
Sophomore Bailey Douglas, who led all scorers with 23 points Tuesday, said it helped that the team was able to play in the first game (9:30 a.m.) of the 4A state tournament at Salt Lake Community College.
"We were the first game, and we had 45 minutes to warm up," she said. "We got used to the court, the double rim." The Falcons relied on a high-pressure defense against the Spartans, another program in the midst of rebuilding.
"That's been our game plan all along," said Parker. "We knew we weren't the biggest team. But we use it as our strength."
Clearfield led the entire game, but Murray played a ferocious third quarter, in which it looked like it might cut into the Falcons' lead and momentum. With seconds remaining in the third quarter, Clearfield tenuously held onto a six-point lead. That's when junior guard Tayley Stoddart hit a 3-pointer that seemed to give the Falcons all of the cushion they'd need.
"It was wide open," she said with a shrug. Her only other points came from two free throws.
Murray struggled at the outset of the game, in part, because none of its players have ever experienced a state tournament game. The Spartans didn't win a game last season.
"Those first few turnovers hurt us a lot," said Murray head coach Lisa White. "Then we got down on ourselves a little."
The team got a spark from senior Jordan Strah, who came off the bench for the Spartans. She finished with a team-high 13 points, eight of which were scored in the third quarter. But she fouled out in the fourth quarter and the Spartans weren't the same without her.
"She was the only one attacking the basket," said White. "We were being real hesitant."
She blamed nerves for the trepidation.
"Just not being here before," she said. "There is a mentality (associated with playoff games). They have to learn this is no different than our gym. Clearfield is not different than any other team."
Unfortunately because it's been a few years since Murray qualified for state, White spent a lot of time preparing the girls for what to expect.
"We had to sit them down and explain the state tournament," she said. "We had to explain what to expect, how the bracket works." Even with the loss, the coach, who returned to coaching after taking four years off, said the experience has been rewarding.
"It's been fun coaching this group of girls," she said. "It's been a great season. The girls have worked hard, and this is a totally different system. They've been very supportive and jumped in with two feet. They deserve the recognition."