It’s so not real right now. I know we did it and tomorrow I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be crazy, but right now it’s the best feeling ever. —Desert Hills' Blair Bliss
CEDAR CITY — Blair Bliss looked up at the clock, and finally allowed herself to smile.
With just seven seconds remaining in the game and Desert Hills comfortably ahead by 14 points, the championship moment that had agonizingly eluded Bliss and her teammates the past two years was finally coming true.
There were no more what-ifs or coulda-beens for the No. 1 Thunder. They had finally taken care of business with a 57-43 victory over No. 2 Morgan to capture the 3A state championship Saturday at Southern Utah University.
“It’s so not real right now. I know we did it and tomorrow I’m going to wake up and it’s going to be crazy, but right now it’s the best feeling ever,” said Bliss. “It’s so much better than being in that locker room crying. I feel bad for Morgan. They’ve worked hard. That was seriously the hardest game I’ve ever played in. It was so fun to win it.”
Bliss finished with 17 points and really set the tone in the first half with three 3-pointers.
The big story though — as it’s been all year — was defense. Desert Hills’ zone defense frustrated Morgan’s top-ranked scoring offense the entire game, forcing the Trojans to shoot just 29 percent (17 of 57).
Desert Hills coach Chris Allred doesn’t believe those struggles were a coincidence either.
“I felt like we did a good job contesting a lot of shots and making them shoot shots they typically don’t shoot,” said Allred. “In watching them play throughout the season, a lot of their shots are uncontested and their feet are set and they don’t have somebody real long running out at them. I felt like we did a good job rushing them.”
Despite Morgan’s shooting woes, it too played strong defense most of the game, which made for a highly entertaining and well-played title game.
“I thought both teams played really, really hard,” said Allred.
Morgan led briefly, 9-8, at the 2:51 mark of the first quarter, but Desert Hills closed the quarter on a 6-1 lead and never trailed the rest of the game.
The Thunder stretched the lead to 24-13 midway through the second quarter and enjoyed a 29-18 halftime cushion.
Finally in the third quarter, Morgan made the run everybody knew was inevitable. The Trojans scored on seven of their first eight possessions to claw to within five points on two occasions.
“We got a little bit loose defensively there for a stretch. We just weren’t communicating very well,” said Allred.
The Thunder, however, usually had an answer. Emily Seifert came up with two clutch three-point plays early in the quarter and Haley Bodnar added a couple of momentum-slowing buckets too.
Leading 39-34 with 3:00 remaining in the third, Desert Hills closed the quarter on a 10-3 run to take a 49-37 lead.
In the fourth, Morgan simply ran out of gas, missing its first 10 shots and falling behind 55-37. Rashel Blazzard finally stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer with 1:40 remaining, her team’s first points of the quarter. Blazzard led the Trojans with 14 points.
“It’s amazing. The past couple years of coming up short, they were definitely heartbreaking, but this year the team got closer together. We set a goal and we knew what we needed to do,” said Seifert, who added eight points.
Haley Bodnar contributed 12 points for the Thunder, and defensively absolutely owned the paint, altering shot after shot. Freshman Ashley Beckstrand chipped in with 10 points, and her ballhandling was instrumental in handling Morgan’s pressing defense.Comment on this story
“The biggest fear I had today was just that if we didn’t come out on top in this game, I just didn’t know how in the world I could console those girls who worked so unbelievably hard the last four years,” said Allred. “Those senior have worked, worked and worked for this moment.”
Those seniors, led by Bliss and Bodnar, made sure no consoling was necessary.
Deseret News 3A All-Tournament Team
MVP — Blair Bliss, Desert Hills
Haley Bodnar, Desert Hills
Kenzie Done, Desert Hills
Taylor Gordon, North Sanpete
Rashel Blazzard, Morgan
Lisa VanCampen, Morgan