RICHFIELD — The Sevier Valley Center was full of cheers and tears on Saturday night.
Thunderous cheers for one whale of a state title game, and tears of joy — and defeat — when the final buzzer sounded.
South Sevier shook off a shaky start to turn back arch-rival Richfield 52-47 in an intense showdown for the 2A boys basketball championship, played before a packed house of 5,000-plus raucous and rowdy fans who pleaded for a victory and protested seemingly every time the officials blew their whistle.
The Rams (24-1) finished off a dream season by claiming their second straight state title, rattling off 24 consecutive victories — but this last one was anything but easy.
"We were ranked No. 1 to start the season, and we got beat that very first game of the year against that Wasatch Academy bunch," South Sevier coach Scott Hunt said. "When you're the defending state champions and ranked No. 1, you are everybody's biggest game and our kids have got to get up for that every single game, night in and night out. And that's a real testimony to these kids' will and strength and courage and character that they bring it every night.
"They won 24 in a row and finished it off with the state championship, having that target on their back all season long."
The hometown Wildcats of Richfield (17-7), playing in the school's first boys state championship game since 1993, jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead on a pair of 3-point bombs by Zak Jensen, and the crowd went bonkers.
"That was my fault," Hunt said. "We felt like their strength was Tyler Anderson and Jordan Kemp. So we started in kind of a gimmick defense, which I knew the Jensen kid could potentially hurt us in that and he did. He knocked those two 3s and got them going, and that was a pretty bad mistake on my part that defensive assignment I gave our kids."
Richfield extended its lead to as many as 10 points at 13-3 before South Sevier began battling back. The Rams, led by senior guard Kaden King, tournament MVP Race Parsons and junior forward Patrick Baker, steadily chipped away at the Wildcats' lead, then finished the first half with an 11-0 run to take a 27-22 lead at intermission.
"They battled back," Hunt said proudly of his team. "They've been winners all year; they're warriors, and there's no quit in these kids. They inched their way back, inched their way back.
"That second quarter was a big turning point in that ballgame when we went back into our old, trusty half-court trap, and they didn't really like that trap very well. We got a few steals and that got us going a little bit, got some momentum going and loosened us up a little bit and we went into halftime with the lead, and of course the kids felt a lot better at that point in time."
And when South Sevier extended its lead to 10 points, 41-31, by the end of the third period, it looked like the Rams might be home free.
"And yet the second half was still just a dogfight," Hunt said. "We knew with Richfield it was going to be. We got stuck on 41 and couldn't score forever.
"The thing of it is is that they play such good defense that finding points is like pulling teeth. It really is. And they know us so well; they're in our region and we've played 'em twice."
Indeed, Richfield refused to fold, as Anderson fueled a fierce comeback that brought the Wildcats back within three points twice down the stretch, the last time at 46-43.
But Parsons fed King for a layup, King and Colton Jones each hit free throws, and Parsons finally put it away with two foul shots with 11.6 seconds left to seal the deal.
Parsons finished with 16 points with 11 rebounds, five assists and four steals; Baker banged in 15 points and grabbed 10 boards, and King contributed 10 points in his last prep game.
Anderson led Richfield with 12 points, Kemp added 10 and Jensen finished with eight for the Wildcats.
"I got pretty nervous when they hit a couple of 3s at the start and got up on us by 10 points," Baker said. "But I had confidence in my teammates that would be able to do what they needed to do to bring us back.
"Richfield-South Sevier game, plus playing for the championship, you couldn't ask for a better crowd."
Though held to 16 points, more than 8 below his season average, Parsons said the only numbers that counted were the ones on the scoreboard.
"That was a very tough game," he said. "Richfield's a tough team and we knew it was going to be a hard-fought battle, a knock-down, drag-out game, and my hat goes off to Richfield. They're a very good team and they could very easily be right where we are.
"They hit some shots, but it wasn't enough to beat us and that's all that matters. ... You look up at that scoreboard and it says 52-47 and we won. I don't care how many I score, we won the game. ... We have two very good seniors and I'll miss 'em with all my heart."
One of those seniors is King, who was mighty glad to finish his prep career in style — with a second straight state title.
"It feels great," he said. "When I look back, I really don't remember it but it's just all coming back, that great feeling. I love it. It feels better to me, being my senior year and ending on a good note.
"Richfield came out way hot and they were hitting about every shot they shot. But we just kept playing our game. I had no doubt at all the whole game. That's one thing our coach said, 'No doubt.' "
2A ALL TOURNAMENT TEAM
MVP — Race Parsons, South Sevier
Kaden King, South Sevier
Tyler Anderson, Richfield
Jordan Kemp, Richfield
Cody John, Wasatch Academy
Devin Cluff, Manti
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