TAYLORSVILLE — For a team that's crushed everyone it has faced this season, Syracuse had to get over one last hurdle before it could try and win a state title.
The Titans haven't lost since they were defeated in the 5A semifinals last season. When they went up against Skyline in the 5A final four on Friday afternoon, thoughts of last year crept into their minds, which made for a very un-Syracuse-like first half of play.
But what stuck with Syracuse the most was how much it hurt when the team's season was over last year, and the Titans regrouped. They showed why they're the state's best team in a 60-39 win over Skyline at Salt Lake Community College. The Titans advance to play Pleasant Grove in Saturday's 5A title game at 11 a.m.
"That definitely sunk into us last year when we lost," said Syracuse guard Jennifer Hazlett. "It pushed us this whole season. We didn't want to lose at all and have that same feeling."
Syracuse, the state's highest-scoring team and one that's won all of its 24 games this season by double digits, was noticeably jittery in the first quarter against the Eagles. The Titans scored just five points in the period. Once they got their legs underneath them, however, the game became as one-sided as the rest of Syracuse's victories.
Brittney Martin led the Titans with 28 points, 11 rebounds and five steals. Hazlett chipped in 20 points, five rebounds and four assists.
The Titans held Skyline without a field goal in the final six minutes of the second quarter, and outscored the Eagles 12-2 during that span. Despite not playing all that well, the run gave Syracuse a seven-point lead at halftime.
"We regained the lead and our composure and started making some shots — that was the biggest thing, just making some shots," said Syracuse coach Rob Reisbeck. "We challenged them in the second half. We said, 'Let's play Syracuse basketball,' and they responded. The kids played well."
Did they ever. Martin and Hazlett showed why they're almost impossible to stop as an outside-inside combo in the third quarter. They led the Titans on a 20-1 run that put Syracuse in charge at 44-18. Martin accounted for 10 of those points, and Hazlett drained two 3-pointers during the spurt.
"I don't have the words to describe how good both of them are and how well they work together," Reisbeck said. "They've developed a great friendship and they do a great job together on the floor."
The Titans needed a solid effort from all of their players to turn the tide in Friday's game. Skyline controlled the tempo early in the contest with its spread game and superior size inside. The Titans got rolling by forcing turnovers and running.
Syracuse forced 23 turnovers and scored 20 points off of them.
"We wanted to get out and run," Reisbeck said. "That's our style. They did a good job of not letting us get out and run early. We started creating turnovers in the second half and it turned into a more up-tempo game in our style."
Syracuse has made huge strides in its three years of existence. The Titans went 7-15 their first year and lost to Riverton in the first round of the playoffs. Riverton again eliminated them last year in the semifinals. They're now just one win away from capping a dominant, perfect season.
"We've been working all year long for this," Reisbeck said. "We're in the state championship game that we've talked about since day one when the program started three years ago. These girls deserve all the credit because they put in all the time, so it's (the credit) on them."