TAYLORSVILLE — Normally, Springville senior Savannah Park turns to pop star Taylor Swift to help her sink game-winning free throws.
But with the 4A state title on the line and a desire to do what her sister could not, she changed her pre-shot routine.
“I normally sing a Taylor Swift song,” Park said after sinking both free throws to give Springville the 42-40 victory over Skyline for the school’s third state title in four years. “That time, I was saying a prayer.”
With 2.6 seconds left on the clock, Park stood at the free throw line and took just a moment to look down at the initials (B.P.) on her left wrist. “It’s going to sound so stupid,” said Park, whose play and leadership throughout the week earned her 4A Tournament MVP honors. “Usually I sing 'Always and Forever' by Taylor Swift. This (time) I said a little prayer, and I played for my sister. I looked at my wrist and said, ‘Make these for her.’ I came out in this tournament and just wanted to make her proud. I wanted to make sure she was part of this."
Bailey Park, a junior, was an integral part of the Red Devil team before tearing her ACL mid-way through a season that has tested the team in ways they never expected.
“It was really difficult,” said Savannah Park, who finished with 15 points, two assists and three steals. “There were times in the season when all of us were down. We didn’t have a very good team chemistry because we were all just really stressed about our games. We were finally able to pull it together because we needed to win out in region just to get here.”
After an undefeated season in 2013, the Red Devils arrived at this year’s state tournament unranked and expected to exit after the second round. The Red Devils won an overtime game against Highland followed by a double overtime victory against Bonneville. Their semifinal victory was a one-point win over Timpanogos.
Needless to say, the championship game against Skyline was the perfect ending to Springville’s thrilling tournament run.
“My coach told us that it doesn’t matter who wins the most during the season,” Park said. “It’s who peaks at state, and I feel we did that. It was such a big blessing.”
Park’s leadership and hustle play was crucial in the Red Devils’ victory, but it was matched by Skyline senior Sydnee Taylor. After Park made the go-ahead free throws, Taylor was fouled on the subsequent inbound play.
And while she missed the one-and-one shot, which allowed the clock to expire, she literally carried the Eagles in the fourth quarter. If it weren’t for her hustle on both ends of the court, and her scoring all nine of the team’s fourth-quarter points, there would have been no need for Park to summon her usual clutch play.
“The girls have done such a heck of a job getting to this point,” said Skyline head coach Lynette Schroeder. “I’m proud of every single one of them.”
Both teams had big plays from other players that kept the game a nail-biter until the final buzzer. For Skyline, Hillary Weixler, who scored nine points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had four steals, and Laurel Tomlinson, who scored two points, grabbed seven rebounds and had two steals, were both key to the team’s success.
For Springville, it was senior Brooke Wheeler, who scored four points, grabbed 10 rebounds and blocked four shots, as well as Lydia Austin hitting two key 3-pointers and finishing with eight points, that kept the Red Devils within striking distance as Skyline lead most of the way through three quarters.
“This week has been kind of a dream as a coach,” said Springville head coach Cami Oakey. “We peaked at the right time. We’ve won 11 of our last 12 games. Back in December, people counted us out. We lost seven in a row, and we haven’t been ranked in a really long time. These girls came into this state tournament with one goal in mind and that’s to get to this game.”
Finding a way to believe that the moment they enjoyed Saturday afternoon at Salt Lake Community College was possible was one of the toughest things Park and her teammates have ever done.
“It’s hard,” she said of continuing to believe a championship is possible while losing early in the season. “Until you get that first win, it’s difficult to think you’re ever going to win. But, you just have to have the mental toughness. And our team really has good mental toughness. I’m just proud of everybody for stepping up.”
And as for Park’s ability to deliver with the game on the line, Wheeler said she never had any doubts.
“It’s definitely nerve-wracking when you get fouled and it’s free throws that could predict the end of the game. But it’s Savannah Park. And she lives for moments like that. I knew she was going to make it.”
Deseret News 4A All-Tournament Team
MVP: Savannah Park, Springville, Sr.
Sydnee Taylor, Skyline, Sr.
Hillary Weixler, Skyline, Jr.
Lydia Austin, Springville, Soph.
Brooke Wheeler, Springville, Sr.
Jamaica Christensen, Timpanogos, Sr.
Gentry Oldham, Mountain View, Jr.
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