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TAYLORSVILLE — American Fork sent last year's 5A state championship team packing on Thursday, denying the Alta Hawks any chance of a repeat title and keeping their own playoff journey alive with a 56-51 victory.
After giving up an early lead to a 10-0 Alta run in the first half, they were forced to play catch up, which required chasing Alta sharpshooter Makenzi Morrison and trying to get things going offensively on their own end.
"We had shots in the first but we just couldn't get the ball into the hole," American Fork head coach Corey Clayton said. "I told them, 'If we keep taking good shots, we're good enough that they'll fall for us ... and if they do, we'll have a chance.' "
The biggest shot to fall of the night, according to American Fork leading scorer Cassidy Fraughton, was a perfectly set up jump shot for Ashley Baugh on the wing with 2:31 left to play.
As the ball fell through the net to give the Cavemen the lead (45-44) for the first time since the second quarter, the momentum shift was undeniable. The bench erupted, the crowd was on their feet, and the Cavemen were ready to clinch themselves a semifinal spot.
Baugh was fouled on the play and missed the free throw, but the Cavemen would go 4-of-4 from the line over the next minute to extend the lead to four (49-45) before Clayton called a timeout. With less than two minutes to play, the Cavemen began to hold the ball.
Morrison, who had an incredible 29 points in the loss, wasn't ready to give up the fight but found her efforts fruitless as American Fork capitalized on their opportunities at the line and sealed the deal.
"I'm really proud of the way we hit our free throws down the stretch," Clayton said of the finish. "We just didn't quit today."
Baugh had a huge fourth quarter for the Cavemen, catching fire after a relatively quiet three quarters. She had 10 points in the fourth and went 5-of-7 from the line. Clayton commended her efforts, calling her a "tough cover" because of her skills and length.
Fraughton had the biggest night for the Cavemen, going 9-of-10 from the line and finishing with 18 points. The junior fouled out with just under a minute to play, but Jaylee Sheperd was able to step up in her place — something Clayton noted as being crucial to the team's success.
Sheperd contributed 11 in the win, earning six of those points from beyond the 3-point arc.
For the Hawks, Morrison was just shy of the double-double, pulling down nine rebounds to compliment her extraordinary scoring effort. She orchestrated the offense and found her way to the basket time and time again.
"Makenzi obviously didn't want her career to end tonight," Clayton said. "She is a great player and gave us a lot of problems."
The victory advances the Cavemen to the semifinal round where they'll face No. 1-ranked Syracuse.
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