TAYLORSVILLE — If one thing is for certain when taking on such a young — yet experienced — athletic and deep American Fork team, it is that it will leave you completely gassed and beat up in the end, win or lose.
The Cavemen's aggressive, run-n-gun and physical style of play has worn down team after team all year long, and Thursday night was no exception.
The red and white relentlessly pressured Bingham from the very first whistle and hung on down the stretch to run over the Miners 66-50 and advance to the 5A semifinals at Salt Lake Community College.
“The pace of play for us is really important. If we can get the game up in the 60s and 70s, we feel pretty good about our chances,” American Fork head coach Corey Clayton said. “We play that way all the time, so that’s what we’re comfortable with, and we count on most teams not being comfortable with that pace of play.”
American Fork wasted no time getting rolling as it scored the first 19 points of the game before Bingham finally found the net in the final four seconds of the quarter, making it a 19-2 game after eight minutes of play.
The home team made the blue and black fight for and earn every basket, assist and rebound and, after 16 minutes of action, ruled with an iron fist by a score of 35-16.
“We just have good players. We’ve had good players for a long time, and I think we work really hard to develop good players and our depth, and we let them play. I’m proud of what we do at this time of year — this is when we shine,” said Clayton.
The stellar American Fork backcourt, consisting of star guard Taylor Moeaki, Jenna Shepherd and freshman Addie Holmstead, really controlled the tempo and continued to run and spread the floor to wear down the Miners' defense.
The trio combined for 41 points, 10 rebounds and five steals while also playing physical, lockdown defense for a full 32 minutes.
“They’re both (Moeaki, Holmstead) really fast. They’re fast with the ball and so that puts a lot of pressure on the defense. It’s hard not to be on your heels defensively when they’re bringing it to you like that,” Clayton said.
Bingham finally began to match the Cavemen's intensity in the second half. However, the tremendous depth of their bench was far too overwhelming.
Nine of American Fork's 11 players found the box score and, each time Bingham seemed to make a push or shut someone down, another Caveman would step up and make a big-time play.
While the Miners heavily relied on four players who all played 25-plus minutes, American Fork utilized its talented bench as nine players logged at least 10 minutes and only one player (Shepherd) played 25 minutes to keep their legs fresh.
“If you have depth, you might as well utilize it, because that’s a luxury that most teams don’t have, so we feel really confident,” said Clayton. “I felt like players off the bench, Holmstead and Collenn Katoa, those guys come in and just save our bacon a lot of the time. It was really nice to see those girls step up.”
And man, was it ever.
Facing a 19-point hole, Bingham refused to roll over and opened the fourth quarter on a 12-3 run to trim its deficit to just 10 points with less than four minutes remaining.
But, with such fresh legs, the American Fork starters were able to return in the final minutes, continue their high-octane style of play to keep the Miners at bay with some clutch plays down the stretch and seal the double-digit win.
“We made our free throws and we got a couple stops when we had to. But you’ve got to give them credit. They could’ve easily rolled over and said it’s not our night, but they battled and made a game of it in that fourth quarter,” Clayton added.
Ryan Love is a full-time student and has been a part-time sportswriter for Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724