RICHFIELD — The hometown high school basketball team will indeed be playing for a state championship Saturday night.
But it'll be the Richfield High boys team — not their powerhouse girls team, the pre-tournament favorites who suffered a stunning upset in Thursday's quarterfinals — who will set their sights on taking the 2A title.
Richfield, which last played for a state championship in boys basketball back in 1993, will face region rival South Sevier for this year's 2A crown this evening at 7:30 p.m. in the sure-to-be-packed Sevier Valley Center.
In a clash of two teams of Wildcats, the Richfield boys trailed 19-13 at halftime of Friday night's semifinal matchup against South Summit, which clung to a 21-19 lead entering the fourth quarter of a low-scoring defensive struggle.
But Richfield came to life in the final period, scoring 18 points during the final eight minutes, with Zak Jensen and Tyler Anderson leading the way.
Anderson got loose inside to score six of his game-high 13 points early in the fourth quarter, transforming a slim 23-21 lead into a slightly more comfortable 29-24 advantage. Jensen scored eight of his 10 points in the final period, including a 3-pointer that gave Richfield its first lead since its opening bucket of the game. He then hit 5-of-6 clutch free throws in the last minute to help preserve the victory.
"It was a slow-paced game, but we'd rather have that than a fast-paced game," said Richfield coach Rand Janes. "The kids did a great job of executing, made shots when we needed to, and defensively did a much better job in the second half of getting stops when we needed it.
"It was just a fun game, a good atmosphere, and the kids played hard. It was good."
Richfield allowed just 10 points in the second half, including just two in the third quarter and eight in the fourth, when the hometown 'Cats poured in 18 points of their own to pull out the win.
"We made a little adjustment at halftime offensively to try and get Tyler some better looks. He stepped up and made the shots and that got us going," Janes said. "And then our defense picked up from there. We got some stops.
"It was a tough-fought game. South Summit, they play hard, and any time you're playing a good team that plays hard, it's always going to be a challenge."
"Zak stepped up and made the free throws when they counted," Janes said. "They always count, but they're magnified at the end of games like that."
For South Summit, Cole Richins scored 10 points and Beau Rydalch added seven, but the "other" Wildcats' hopes to reach the title game came unraveled when they only managed two third-quarter points and just two field goals in the entire second half. And, much to their dismay, they missed five free throws down the stretch.
With the come-from-behind win, Richfield gets a third shot to beat South Sevier, which swept the two teams' regular-season region matchups by scores of 47-39 on Jan. 20 and 51-41 on Feb. 10.
"Coach (Scott) Hunt does a good job with his (South Sevier) kids, and any time you play a team like that, you get kids to step up to the occasion," Janes said. "Hopefully, we can play well tomorrow and give ourselves a chance.
"Both times we've played them, it was a packed house and a fun atmosphere, so it's fun. It's a fun atmosphere for the kids to play in."
And the hometown team is hoping that its 19-year wait to reach the state finals will be rewarded with a long-awaited championship.
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