Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Alta's Lita Hola (left, red jersey) and Shanna Ipson (33) fight to get the ball from Taylorsville's Tia Palauni. The Warriors' win was saved when Palauni made a late block.

TAYLORSVILLE — Jace Hymas didn't commit a crime Wednesday night, but he sure felt like he had.

"I feel like a thief," said the Taylorsville head basketball coach after the Warriors won a thriller 47-44 against Alta in the region opener. "It was a big game — huge, huge."

The unranked Warriors led 19th-ranked Alta midway through the second quarter. That's when the Hawks turned on their offense and held the Warriors scoreless for three and a half minutes in the second quarter. Alta owned a five-point lead at halftime.

"Alta made some nice adjustments in the first half," said Hymas. "We had to make some adjustments of our own. At halftime we talked about three things — offensive patience, position defense and finishing our shots."

He said the team's defense, especially the way they helped each other out in the second half, made the difference.

The game ended on one of the most exciting — and risky — defensive plays when senior point guard Tia Palauni blocked the Hawks' 3-point attempt to tie the game with just seconds on the clock. She managed to grab the ball and dribble away from the crowd, sealing the win.

"Tia played great," said Hymas. Because teammate Heather Gardner had fouled Becca Beaudoin on a 3-point attempt just a few seconds earlier, which resulted in Beaudoin making all three foul shots to get Alta within three points, not everyone was happy to see her play so aggressively.

"Crap yeah," said guard Katie Balmforth when asked if she was worried when Palauni went up for the block. Junior Athena Mauga nodded in agreement. As for Palauni, well, she wasn't scared at all.

"I could feel my body, where I was," she said. "I was in control. I took it at an angle so if I missed it, I'd just fly on by her."

But she didn't miss. And down the stretch, she was absolute money for the Warriors, who shot just 55 percent from the free-throw line and missed about a half-dozen lay-ups in the game.

Palauni hit two free throws and then sunk a lay-up with five minutes to go that gave Taylorsville a five-point lead. Collette Crystal and Beaudoin led Alta's charge back into the game and a jump shot by Crystal tied the game at 38. She then stole an in-bounds pass, but dribbled on the out-of-bounds line giving the Warriors the ball.

Palauni capitalized on it by sinking a jump shot at the top of the key. She then scored five of Taylorsville's next six points and grabbed three rebounds. After she made both free throws with 53 seconds remaining, the Warriors had a 46-38 lead and it looked like a comfortable win.

Beaudoin hit a three-point shot and then Balmforth made one of two foul shots. With 25 seconds left, Gardner fouled Beaudoin, who made all three shots. A three-point ball game was what it stayed as Taylorsville missed four free throws in the final seconds as Alta fouled to try and get the ball back. Then with just a few seconds left on the clock, Palauni came up with the big block.

"Every game is going to be a must win," Palauni said. "Our region is tough, and this year, we're the underdog in our region."

Balmforth said that while that's a little different position for the Warriors, they'll continue to be successful with the right mind-set.

"If we're working as five, working together, we'll do fine," she said.

Palauni finished with 15 points, while Balmforth added 13 and Mauga had 10. Merisha Black scored nine points. For Alta, Beaudoin led the way with 21 points, while Crystal added seven points, eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.

E-mail: adonaldson@desnews.com