RICHFIELD Perhaps top-ranked Whitehorse should've known it was in trouble and maybe it did when No. 3 Piute wound up finishing fourth at the Region 15 championships.
Piute High had been one of Class 1A's elite teams throughout the season but stumbled last weekend en route to the fourth seed from its league and a first-round state-tournament date with Whitehorse, previously unbeaten against in-state competition.
"Region didn't turn out as good as (it) should've, but we (still) knew we were a pretty good team," said guard Skyler Steed.
Steed and Co. more than proved their point.
Overcoming an early 8-0 deficit, Piute played stellar defense throughout and battled back to lead for most of the evening before surviving late. The Thunderbirds emerged with a pulsating 59-52 win Wednesday, advancing themselves to the quarterfinals and knocking out the undisputed pre-tournament favorite.
"We could've finished a lot better ... but we'll take it," said Piute coach Steve Hoagland, who noted he had several kids make crucial plays from start to finish.
At the top of that list were the names of Steed and sophomore guard Tyson Westwood, who both did a little of everything.
Steed finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds and he kept Whitehorse star Trevor Martin, regarded as one of the classification's top players, in check. Martin finished with 15 points but was kept quiet all night.
"We had a little talk, and he knew he had to step up his game, and he sure did," said Hoagland.
On the other hand, Westwood scored 18 points, grabbed eight rebounds, also drew a tough defensive matchup and scored four huge points in the final 26.7 seconds to preserve the win.
As well as Piute had played throughout, it appeared Whitehorse might come from behind at the end.
Martin drained a 3-pointer to pull Whitehorse to within two points at 54-52 with 37 seconds remaining, and you could hardly blame any of the Piute fans for fearing the worst when Westwood was subsequently sent to the line for two shots with 26.7 seconds left. That's because Westwood and his teammates had missed some free throws earlier in the quarter.
But Westwood didn't blink.
He calmly swished both attempts, and, following a Whitehorse miss, his layup with 13 seconds remaining insured that Piute would advance.
"He knows he's a good player, and that's what it takes confidence to knock down the shots," said Steed. "And he did it."
Besides Martin's 15 points, Whitehorse guard Byron Grant scored a team-high 17 points and Shawn Dickson added 12. However, Piute's suffocating defense and subsequent rebounding made the difference."We take pride in our defense, and we played pretty good on those guys," said Hoagland.
Top performer: Skyler Steed had 18 points, 10 rebounds and three assists, and he played outstanding defense for the T-Birds. Key stat: Piute held prolific-scoring Whitehorse to just 31.6 percent shooting. Up next: Quarterfinals, Thursday, Piute vs. TBA, 5:30 p.m.