CEDAR CITY — Cedar’s Jessica Whetman almost started crying.

Even though everyone in the Centrum knew she’d just buried the game winner to cap the edge-of-your-seat 3A semifinal, the fourth quarter had been so chaotic that for a brief second Whetman thought Cedar had actually lost.

And then she looked up at the clock.

“I didn’t even know that we had won the game when it ended. I thought we were behind, so I was trying to keep it in, trying not to cry, and then I looked up and it was 54-53 and I was like ‘Oh my gosh, we won,'” said Whetman, who was immediately mobbed in a scene she described as the “best feeling ever.”

Her layup on a pass from Dream Weaver banked in with 1.2 seconds left, which was immediately followed by the final buzzer as Cedar secured its place in Saturday’s 3A championship game at 12:30 p.m. against Snow Canyon.

Cedar led only twice after the first quarter, once with 35 seconds left in the game and then again at the buzzer.

It was a heartbreaking loss for Carbon, which led most of the game but missed its last eight free throws in the final 4:09. Those misses kept it close, and Cedar made the most of it.

“These girls want it, that’s what I love about them. They were fighting like crazy down the whole game,” said Cedar coach John Elison.

The entire fourth quarter was played with an intensity you’d expect with two minutes left on the clock, not eight.

When asked how his players kept their composure, Elison said, “Did we? I was dying.”

With the game tied 47-47, Carbon pushed the lead to 51-47 on back-to-back layups by Kelsey Sorenson and Morgan Hillam.

Against Carbon’s top-ranked defense, which had wreaked havoc all game, Cedar looked like it was in serious trouble. Senior Courtney Morley responded with a jumper in the paint, though, and was fouled. After converting the and-one, the deficit was cut to 51-50 with 44.5 seconds remaining.

After a timeout, Cedar stole the ensuing inbounds pass and then Whetman knocked down two free throws giving Cedar its first lead since the first quarter, 52-51, with 35 seconds remaining.

Lindsey Blanc quickly pushed the ball up court after Carbon successfully inbounded, finding Sorenson whose layup put the Dinos back in front 53-52.

Carbon had a chance to stretch the lead with 19 point seconds remaining, but missed two free throws. Ironically enough, Cedar missed two free throws of its own with 9.6 seconds remaining.

Cedar’s birthday girl, however, came to the rescue as Weaver corralled the offensive rebound — a rarity on a night when Carbon absolutely dominated the boards.

Without any timeouts, Cedar frantically passed the ball around the perimeter looking for an open shot as the seconds ticked away, still down a point.

With just a few seconds remaining, Whetman thought Weaver was going to take a jump shot in traffic so she rolled to the basket in case of a rebound. Instead, Weaver saw Whetman drift into the paint unguarded and quickly fired a pass her way.

Whetman easily converted the layup with several thousand fans screaming — which turned out to be the first game-winning basket of her career.

Whetman finished the game with 12 points while Morley led all scorers with 18 points.

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Afterward, a still stunned Elison still wasn’t sure how his players managed to put 54 points up on Carbon’s dynamite defense.

“That’s as good a defense as I’ve ever seen, we were stumped. Our whole team was stumped for three quarters,” he said.

Sorenson led Carbon in the loss with 16 points.

Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer. EMAIL: jedward@deseretnews.com