RICHFIELD — In the race for this year's 2A boys basketball championship, there was one Race that Manti wasn't going to win.
Race Parsons, South Sevier's splendid junior shooting guard, poured in 34 points to pace the Rams past the Templars 66-56 on Friday night at the Sevier Valley Center, sending defending state champion South Sevier into tonight's title game against region rival Richfield, which rallied to beat South Summit 37-29 in Friday's late semifinal game.
South Sevier and Richfield, which have already met twice before this season with the Rams winning both times, will square off at 7:30 p.m.
"If it's South Sevier-Richfield, it's going to be standing room only tomorrow," Rams coach Scott Hunt said. "I mean, when we play our regular region games, it's standing room only. We had to turn people away from our gym and couldn't fit 'em in.
"If the fire marshall would've been there, we'd have been in trouble. They were standing everywhere.
"It'll be crazy," Hunt said. "They're a strong team, big physical buggers.
We got 'em both times we played them this season, but both of them were hard-fought games. I would say, right now, to beat this team three times is going to be a huge challenge for us. There is a rivalry between South Sevier and Richfield that goes back for eons. It's just gonna be a Holy War tomorrow, so to speak, whatever you want to call it. It's going to be a battle."
But if Parsons has another game like he did Friday, the Rams' championship chances go way up. He didn't just score for the Rams, either. He hit the boards, played fierce defense and found open teammates when Manti's defense collapsed on him. In all, it was the most impressive performance of this year's 2A state tournament.
"Playing in 2A, sometimes kids get overlooked," said Hunt after his team ran its record to 23-1 with its 23rd consecutive victory. "But I'll tell you what, I think he's as good as there is in the state at two-guard. He just works hard all the time. He's a great leader for us because his effort is unbelievable. Night in and night out, he just gives it everything he's got.
"He's just a great kid, too, a 4.0 student; you can't say anything bad about him. He's just a great, well-rounded kid. He's been a good team player for us. He just does what he needs to do to help us win, but tonight he felt like he had to score some points for us and he did. He's a heck of a player."
Parsons got plenty of help from teammate Baker, who scored 13 points, while Colton Jones and Kaden King contributed eight and seven points, respectively, to the Rams' winning cause.
For Manti (16-7), Jamen Miller led the way with 19 points, thanks to five 3-pointers, while Brady Aste added four 3s on his way to 14 points and Scott Hacking had 10 more for the Templars.
After South Sevier jumped out to an early 8-0 lead, Manti came roaring back behind Miller's solid 3-point shooting. The Templars took a momentary 18-16 lead in the second quarter, but Parsons scored 12 of the Rams' last 14 points of the half in a 14-3 run that put them back on top by seven, 30-23, at intermission.
Manti stayed within striking distance and trailed by just seven early in the fourth period, but Parsons fed King for a fast-break layup, Austin Clark canned a big 3-pointer, and South Sevier hit 10-of-10 free throws in the final 3:39 — the Rams were 23-of-25 from the line for the game — to turn back the Templars' upset bid.
Despite his superb performance, Parsons preferred to talk more about his team and how good it was to win and get back to the title game again.
"Well, we got the win; that's all that matters," he said. "Manti's a really scrappy team; we got up 8-0, and I knew they were gonna come back and make a game out of it.
"I don't like to lose very much. When the going gets tough, that's when I know I've gotta step in and do some things and, at the same time, the team, they know exactly what we've got to do. It's not just me, it's the team, too. They step in and they make big plays.
"There's a whole lot more to this game than scoring," said Parsons, a three-year starter who's averaging over 24 points, nearly nine rebounds and a couple of assists per game this season. "You can get the ball and it's not a one-man show, that's for sure. If you play like a team and you have good chemistry, no one's gonna beat ya. If your team passes the ball around, gets it to the better guy, gets the better shot, then no one's gonna beat ya. That way, you feed off of each other and the game goes a lot smoother."
After Friday's outstanding outing — heck, he scored 43 against Manti earlier this season — he'll certainly get no argument from the Templars.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company