SALT LAKE CITY — The third time was, indeed, the charm for Dixie High's girls basketball team. And now the Flyers are hoping they can take that charm and turn it into a championship.
Dixie, which dropped a pair of close Region 9 contests to Cedar during the regular season, won the one that counted most Friday afternoon when the Flyers rallied past the Lady Reds, 33-31, in the semifinals of this year's 3A state tournament at the Dee Events Center.
Dixie (17-7) will face region rival Desert Hills (22-2) for the 3A title today at 5 p.m. at the DEC. The Thunder rolled into the championship game with a 40-30 victory over Snow Canyon in another all-Region 9 matchup.
Senior forward Caroline Lantor and sophomore forward Kelsey McCann each had double-doubles for Dixie on Friday. McCann scored 11 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and fed pint-sized senior point guard Elizabeth Thompson for a huge layup and a 32-29 lead in the final minute. Lantor had 10 points and 10 boards — including the most critical carom of the game with 2.1 seconds to play.
"She's been doing that all year," Dixie coach Ken Robinson said of Lantor's rebounding prowess. "Sometimes players have a knack of just getting up and getting a hand on something, and she's physical and she comes down with tough rebounds. And boy, there's none bigger than that one was.
"What's so wonderful about this is that even though we missed a couple crucial free throws, we got some defensive stops and we got some boards that we just had to have. That spread and having Thompson getting the layup underneath was just critical. Taking possession and getting a little bit of a lead and getting a little bit of a spread helped us out. ... That three-point advantage was big for us.
"Obviously, any time you get to the finals it's exciting," said Robinson, Dixie's first-year girls coach who won a state championship and reached the title game two other times with the Lehi boys program, and also reached the finals three more times as head coach of the Dixie boys team. "How many years do you go and you don't get there? ... To bring these girls here and go the finals is really a special thing for me."
Robinson is retiring from teaching after this, his 38th year of teaching and coaching which has included stops at the high school, college and semi-pro hoops levels. He might be tempted to stay on as the Flyers' coach, however, especially after getting them this far in his first year as their head coach.
His team trailed from early in the first quarter until the last two minutes, when Lantor's layup put Dixie ahead 30-29 — its first lead since 5-3. Then, following a missed shot by Cedar, the Flyers went into a spread offense, which paid huge dividends when McCann found little Thompson alone for a layup that extended Dixie's lead to 32-29 with less than a minute to play.
Cedar's Madison Alger cut the gap to a single point, 32-31, with two free throws with 29.5 seconds left. When the Flyers missed the front end of a one-and-one 10 seconds later, the Lady Reds had the ball with a chance for a go-ahead, potential game-winning score.
But Cedar's shot was off the mark and Lantor pulled down the decisive rebound with 2.1 seconds left on the clock.
"We knew that if we got that last rebound, we had the game," she said. "That's all it took."
Lantor was subsequently fouled and made 1 of 2 free throws for a 33-31 advantage, and Cedar quickly called timeout after rebounding her missed foul shot. But the Lady Reds' length-of-the-court inbounds pass bounced out of bounds, allowing Dixie to run out the clock and preserve the victory.
Thompson wound up with six points and four rebounds for Dixie, which lost its regular-season matchups against Cedar by scores of 50-46 and 49-43.
Alainey Carter led Cedar with a game-high 12 points, and she also had six rebounds. Alger added seven points; Tara Shipp chipped in with six points and 10 rebounds, and Taylor Davis had nine rebounds for the Redmen, who saw their eight-game winning streak snapped.
"It's very exciting," Lantor said of the Flyers' trip to the finals. "We came in as underdogs, the fourth seed, and we came out and were ready to play.
"All it was was want. We weren't really meshing together the first half, and when the half ended, we knew that we needed to get it together and we really wanted it more than they did, in my opinion.
"It was just that last quarter, the little things — rebounds, free throws, fouls," she said. "We're not gonna have that nervousness tomorrow and we're going to be ready to play. Desert Hills is in our region and we've lost to them, but they were very close games. And we're ready to play just like we were against Cedar. We're ready to come out and nobody's going to expect it."
Copyright 2015, Deseret News Publishing Company