(Skyline) is very physical and they push you around (and my kids) kind of drew a line in the sand and said, 'enough.' And I think we matched them physicality for physicality for most of the game, that was our goal all week in practice. —Hillcrest head coach Sam Richins
SALT LAKE CITY — Unofficially, the playoffs started Friday night for the Hillcrest Huskies, and they were up to the challenge — barely.
After seeing a nine-point, fourth-quarter cushion over Skyline vanish with 42 seconds remaining, Hillcrest regrouped and executed both offensively and defensively on the final few possessions to hold on for a 51-48 victory.
A loss would’ve eliminated Hillcrest from a potential playoff spot in Region 6, but now the Huskies are in the driver’s seat heading into Tuesday’s regular-season finale.
“The kids just found their resolve and refused to lose, to their credit,” said Hillcrest coach Sam Richins.
Hillcrest and Skyline are both now 5-6 in region play with one game remaining, but the Huskies have the much easier final game as they host four-win Judge Memorial. Skyline hosts 19-win Olympus.
“It’s important for us to meet goals, and if we can beat Judge on Tuesday that (hopefully) puts us in the tournament with a winning record,” said Richins.
Over the next five minutes, however, Skyline ratcheted up the defensive intensity and started crashing the glass. Hillcrest committed four turnovers over a two-minute stretch and on the other end Skyline corralled five offensive rebounds.
“I’ve got to give Skyline credit, they’re an incredible offensive rebounding team. They were getting three or four looks at the hoop the last couple minutes,” said Richins.
Skyline senior Austin Stevenson — who led all scorers with 27 points — got the rally started with a 3-pointer to make it a 45-39 game.
Back-to-back layups by Nifai Tonga and Stevenson cut the deficit to 47-44 with 2:21 remaining, and then after another Hillcrest turnover Tonga converted scored again in the paint to make it a 47-46 game with 1:13 remaining.
On Skyline’s next possession, Stevenson was fouled driving the lane and converted both free throws to put Skyline ahead 48-47, its first lead since a 22-20 advantage midway through the second quarter.
After a timeout, Hillcrest executed a misdirection play to perfection as Ashby rolled to the basket with no one in his way for the go-ahead score with 26 seconds remaining.
Skyline missed a 3-pointer at the other end with 11 seconds remaining, and then, after Eli Walch drained a pair of free throws with 7.7 seconds left, the Eagles missed another 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“(Skyline) is very physical and they push you around (and my kids) kind of drew a line in the sand and said, enough. And I think we matched them physicality for physicality for most of the game, that was our goal all week in practice,” said Richins.
Hillcrest sophomore Tekarli scored 12 of his team-high 15 points in the first half and hit a big 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. Ashby added 13, with Walch chipping in with 12.
Skyline finished the game with a 13-5 edge on the offensive glass, but, for the most part, struggled to take advantage of the extra possessions shooting just 29 percent from the field (15 of 51).
Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org