SPANISH FORK After losing their first two league games to the two Region 4 powers, the Spanish Fork Dons want to let the other teams know that they still belong in the league's elite three.
After notching a road win last week, the Dons grabbed league win No. 2 Friday night with a 68-60 home win over the Timpanogos Timberwolves the team that most expect to challenge the Dons for that third spot in the region. Both teams are now 2-2 in league play, with the Dons traveling to American Fork next week while the T-Wolves will host league-leading Lone Peak.
"We had two tough losses to open (region play) up and it's important to get our confidence back up, but the kids know they can play and these last two wins were big," Spanish Fork coach Mark Bailey said.
Every player in the Dons' starting five had a big game. Center Juan Vergera had a team-high 17 points and 11 rebounds, while Matt Gardner scored 14 and Zach Clayton and Devin Nelson added 13 each. Clayton hit three first-quarter 3-pointers and Gardner hit some clutch free throws down the stretch.
"We have to have that kind of balance for us to be successful," Bailey said. "Everyone has to come ready to play."
Spanish Fork playmaking point guard Dallin Naulu also knocked in two 3-pointers, but more importantly had 10 assists six of which came in the opening quarter when the Dons went on a 14-0 run and eventually took a 22-7 first-period lead.
"He was able to penetrate early and get us some open shots. He had a good night tonight, so that was important for us," Bailey said.
After the Dons had opened up that 15-point first-quarter lead, the T-Wolves clawed back behind a hard-to-break half-court trap which led to several transition baskets by guards Skyler Halford, Trevor Thomas and Colton Willman. The three led Timpanogos in scoring with 20, 14 and nine points respectively. By scoring the final three baskets of the first half, Timpanogos cut Spanish Fork's lead to 34-27 at the break.
"Credit them. They got their hands on the ball and got some easy buckets because we didn't take care of the ball very good," Bailey said.
With an 11-2 run in the third, however, the Dons marched back out to lead 50-35. But that's when the T-Wolves stepped up the defensive pressure again and went on their own 12-2 run to trail only 52-47 early in the fourth. Gardner put the Dons back ahead by eight with a huge 3-pointer to stop the run.
Still, the T-Wolves threw a late scare into the Dons. With just more than a minute left in the game, Naulu had a chance to put Spanish Fork up by nine but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Halford raced down for a quick basket and then, following a steal off the inbounds pass, trickled in another layup seconds later to make the score 63-60 with 49 seconds remaining.
Nelson hit one of two from the line for Spanish Fork with 40 seconds left to make it 64-60 and a two-possession game. Willman then missed an open 3-pointer that could have cut the lead to one. Gardner followed by making two free throws to push the Dons back ahead by six. Then, following another missed Timpanogos shot, Gardner sank two more free throws to seal the win."Sometimes we got a little too fast tonight and tried to dribble too much, but the things we had trouble with are things we can correct," Bailey said. "We'll take the win."