High school girls basketball: Riverton claims first 5A basketball title in school history

Published: Saturday, Feb. 23 2013 9:30 p.m. MST

Riverton and layton play Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013 for the 5A State Championship at Salt Lake Community College. Riverton won 41-37.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

TAYLORSVILLE — Riverton coach Ron Ence frantically motioned for a timeout. Gerika Ballard bowed in pain, tears gushing down her face. Her pale complexion explained her grimacing expressions.

Ballard was sick.

“I was throwing up last night. This morning I just took a spoonful of liquid and saltine crackers. (That) is basically what I ate,” she explained. “Every time I sat down I felt like I was going to puke.”

Her mother quickly rushed to the bench after the timeout was granted. Ballard needed gum to combat the seemingly everlasting aftertaste of nausea.

But her tears quickly subsided. The senior wasn’t about to forgo the 5A girls state championship Saturday at Salt Lake Community College.

With the Silverwolves struggling to hold a one-point lead against Layton with 30 seconds remaining, Riverton's Kylee Currie dodged the Lancers' full-court press before spotting Shelby Richards at the top of the key. Richards penetrated, and as defenders closed, dumped a no-look bounce pass to Ballard, who kissed a layup off the glass in traffic. The basket was enough leeway — after the ‘Wolves subsequently forced a turnover — to allow Riverton to capture its first basketball championship in school history, 41-37.

“Just knowing that it was my senior year and it was my last game, I wanted to leave no regrets on the floor,” Ballard, with color returning to her face for the first time, said. “And that’s what I did.”

Ballard tied a game high with 13 points and snagged four rebounds.

Saturday's girls basketball title is Riverton High's first outside of track (3) since the school opened its doors in 1999.

“Our school has only taken a few in track,” Ballard said of Riverton, which has the largest enrollment in the state. “We’ve always dreamed, and wanted to go on and take the next step. I feel this is the next step for our school to go on and do bigger and better things.”

Riverton’s Whitney Saunders, the Deseret News All-Tournament MVP, finished with nine points and 12 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end.

“I’m very proud of the girls because we still had a shot. ... They just couldn’t come up with it,” Layton coach Van Price said. “(Riverton) is so athletic. That’s a very good team — just a step quicker than us.”

Jamie Smith chipped in seven points for Riverton and Richards, although limited offensively, dished out four assists and was the catalyst on defense.

“We did it,” Richards exclaimed. “We stuck together and fought so hard. I knew this was going to be a great season with the potential and talent we had on this team. If we gave everything we’ve got (there was) no doubt in my mind this team could take a state championship.”

For Layton, it was a bittersweet ending to a stellar season that the Lancers refused to let slip away after suffering three straight region losses to close the regular season.

“The end of the season was on a down note. We had a talk about remembering who we are, the hard work,” Price, whose team overcame a 14-point halftime deficit in the quarterfinals and upset No. 1 Bingham in the semifinals, said. “Like Navy SEALs ... there is a motto, 'Don’t ring the bell.' If you ring the bell — you quit. You can have doughnut and milk and you’re kind of happy it’s over, but you quit. I didn’t want us to quit.”

On Saturday, the ‘Wolves (22-3) forced the Lancers (17-8) to open 0 for 6 with five turnovers in the first six minutes, and surged out to a 7-0 lead when Richards found Ballard on a drive-and-dish.