It just blew my mind just how on top of it, coachable, listening, trusting in everything everybody had to say, including the coaches; they were just relying on each other, and I just loved it. —Elizabeth Gustafson

TAYLORSVILLE — Kacey Blackner had no idea she’d turned the momentum in her team’s favor at a critical point in Alta’s quarterfinal win over Highland on Wednesday.

“Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking about it,” she said after the top-ranked Hawks defeated Highland 51-36, in a game that was much closer than the final score indicates. “I didn’t even know it was that close.” When Blackner had her moment, Highland had pulled within two points and seemed to be stealing the game’s momentum midway through the third quarter.

That’s when Blackner, who missed Monday’s game with an ankle injury, hit a 3-pointer her coach called “a sniper shot” and then hustled to the other end to snag a steal.

“That’s my favorite thing,” she said grinning, “surprising them with defense right off the bat.”

The Hawks got off to a quick start, but the Rams managed to stay close most of the game. They never could quite take the lead, and the Hawks played so well that three minutes into the first quarter, Alta head coach Elizabeth Gustafson pumped her fist in the air and yelled, “I love this!”

“They have connected so much today,” she said. “They were focused. It just blew my mind just how on top of it, coachable, listening, trusting in everything everybody had to say, including the coaches; they were just relying on each other, and I just loved it.”

She was thrilled Blackner got a chance to make a difference in Wednesday’s quarterfinal win after missing Monday’s opening round. “She clinched it right when we needed it for sure,” Gustafson said.

Blackner said it was a huge relief to her just to have the opportunity to experience the playoffs.

And she wasn’t the only one.

Freshman guard Kemery Martin, who scored 14 points, said she was so excited to be competing in the playoffs, she didn’t even feel nervous.

“I was just excited to have the experience of state,” she said. “I’m not really worried.”

Her older sister, junior guard Mariah Martin, added 14 points and 14 rebounds while forward Tatiana Thompson contributed nine points and five rebounds. Blackner also finished with nine points and five rebounds.

Highland was led by Marlee Machon’s nine points and Nani Tonga’s seven points and six rebounds. Lana Olevao helped them inside with two points and 10 rebounds.

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Gustafson said the team’s “5A heavy” preseason, as well as moving to 4A for the first time in more than a decade, may have given the players a little more confidence.

“That psychological part of the game, absolutely,” she said. “Coming down to 4A, every sport at Alta is feeling the same thing. …They were thinking, ‘Let’s just go with it.’ …We’re just here to play some different teams, get different exposure.”

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