When second-ranked Morgan visited third-ranked Juan Diego on Friday evening, there was more than the usual game on the line. For Juan Diego, it was a chance to gain a little retribution for a 14-point beating at the hands of the Trojans two weeks ago and to climb into a tie for first place in Region 10. For Morgan, it was the opportunity to clinch the region title and keep the momentum of a 12-game winning streak alive heading into the state tournament next week.
Despite a comparatively (for the Trojans) slow start, Morgan powered through to a 72-55 victory and a lucky 13th straight victory.
Morgan seemed to be tight out of the gate, allowing Juan Diego to control the tempo and press the Trojans defensively. The gritty Soaring Eagle team limited the Trojans' offensive opportunities and forced a number of turnovers en route to a 12-8 lead at the end of the first period.
The score was a far cry from Morgan's previous three games, in which the Trojans scored no fewer than 30 points in the first quarter. In fact, Morgan leads the state (all classifications) in scoring this season, averaging more than 74 points per game.
Reaching that lofty plateau seemed unlikely as the Soaring Eagle continued to turn the tables on Morgan. The Trojans are well-known for their full-court pressure defense, but in the first half of this game, Juan Diego applied the pressure which seemed to fluster the Trojans and knock them off their usual rhythm. Foul trouble also had three Trojan starters on the bench for most of the second period as well.
At the half, Juan Diego led Morgan 28-24, the Trojans' first halftime deficit since trailing Timpview 31-28 on Dec. 17, which was also Morgan's last loss.
Trojan coach Brad Matthews spent little time at halftime making adjustments. "It wasn't so much a defensive adjustment as it was an effort adjustment. We spent the time (at halftime) motivating them."
Whatever was said in the locker room had the desired effect as the Trojans turned up their own defensive pressure in the third period. A simple switch to a 2-1-2 full court press forced a number of Soaring Eagle turnovers and easy Morgan baskets. Exceeding their offensive output of the entire first half, Morgan scored 26 points in the third period to lead 50-42 going into the fourth.
The fourth quarter was much the same. "The team started playing our style of ball rather than allowing Juan Diego to set the tone," said Matthews. Morgan put another 25 points on the board in the fourth, to get very near their lofty season average and to achieve the perfect region season and the region crown.
Matthews was proud of his team's effort in the win. "Our bench played well when they were needed in the first half due to foul trouble. The whole team stepped up and played a great second half."
Heading into the state tournament, Morgan's three senior captains feel ready for the challenge. "It's cool to see our dreams and goals start to unfold," said Brea Hurlbut. "We have them in our mind, but to actually accomplish them means more to us because we worked hard for it and came together as a team."
Rashel Blazzard, Morgan's leading scorer, agreed. "It feels fantastic! It's another challenging step towards our ultimate goal to win state."
"Tonight's game was a real challenge," added Lisa VanCampen. "I think it was good to go into state after a game like this, and we feel like we can dominate at state."
Morgan will enter the state title run as a top seed in the lower half of the bracket, and will face the loser of a coin toss among Richfield, Payson and Carbon, who finished tied for third in Region 12. That game will take place in Morgan. Juan Diego heads to state as the Region 10 second seed, and will take on whoever wins the coin toss as the Region 12 3-seed.
Chris is a graduate of the University of Utah and Santa Clara Law School and practices law in Heber, is a father of four, an avid fly-fisherman, and announcer of many Morgan High School sports events. Email him at: email@example.com.
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company