WOODS CROSS — The Bountiful Braves couldn't have scripted it any better.
If they beat their archrival on the road Thursday, they would be region champs.
Bountiful's players got the job done.
Sam Merrill went 14 of 16 from the free-throw line, and the Braves held on down the stretch to beat rival Woods Cross, 72-62.
The Wildcats (4-5, 12-8) were down by six points with a minute and a half left before staging one final rally. Merrill and Co., however, hit several clutch free throws to seal the deal.
Bountiful hit 76.3 percent of its free throws overall (29 of 38), which was the telling stat in its victory.
“I just kept my composure and made the free throws,” said Merrill. “We played good defense, and did whatever it takes for the win.”
Merrill had 12 of his team-high 21 points in the second-half while holding off the Wildcats.
As it played out, the Braves held a tenuous five-point lead, 33-28, at halftime. That's because of Woods Cross guard Skylar Farnes, who went off for 18 of his season-high 27 points in the first two quarters. He finished with four 3-pointers and led all scorers.
“He was just making shots off our defense. Nothing we could do. We’re just lucky it wasn’t four or five guys doing that,” Bountiful head coach Mike Maxwell said.
The Braves had a fantastic start to the game — a 15-4 run — as Zach Seljaas hit two of his three 3-pointers early on. Merrill hit a 3 himself in the run along with a steal and breakaway layup to force a Woods Cross timeout half way through the first quarter. That timeout seemed to help because the Wildcats came out with an 8-0 run of their own to close Bountiful’s lead to five by the end of the quarter, 17-12.
The Braves' largest lead of the game was 12.
Seljaas had 18 points on the night while Jordan Bleak chipped in with nine points.
“We made our free throws tonight, didn’t turn the ball over, and got to the basket in the second half,” said Maxwell.
With the win, the Braves (9-0, 18-3) clinched the Region 6 title. However, they'll close out the regular season Feb. 19 against a very difficult Highland team before tackling the 4A tournament.
“We're expecting to win against a tough team in Highland, which helps both of us prepare for state. We’ll give our all and prepare like it means everything,” said Maxwell.
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company