TAYLORSVILLE — Erin Foster didn't want to put the trophy down.
Even as she shuffled through reporters, describing how she and the rest of the Alta Hawks came to be the first team to defeat the Syracuse Titans in two seasons —and, of course, winning the 5A girls state championship in the process — she couldn't keep from clutching the golden piece of hardware.
"This is unexplainable," she said after the 67-59 victory at the Salt Lake Community College on Saturday afternoon. "This is just an amazing feeling."
The Hawks executed their game plan perfectly to clinch the win, slowing the tempo to keep Syracuse from beating them in a foot race. The strategy worked quickly, as Alta jumped out to an 11-0 lead, keeping the Titans from scoring until the final minute of the first quarter.
"We went into our zone and we just told them (the Alta players) that we have to control the pace of the game," said Alta head coach Kristi Jensen. "We slowed down our offense and played the zone to slow down their offense."
The slower tempo allowed the Hawks to find their shooting rhythm early while holding the Titans to just 26.9-percent shooting in the first half.
"We've played that zone the whole tournament," Jensen added, "and it slowed everybody down, but it's been good for us."
Foster scored first for the Hawks, followed by five quick points from senior Hayli Shurtz. Makenzi Morrison added a bucket, followed by two points from Lexi Garland. Each those girls went on to reach double digits for Alta.
"They all played incredible," Garland said of her teammates. "They all hit huge shots. We all took care of the ball; we were all mentally in it today."
Alta continued its scoring prowess into the second period. Foster scored 10 straight points, including two contested 3-pointers that ignited the red-and-black student section.
Brittney Martin, the Syracuse star who led the Titans to last year's state title and 48 consecutive victories prior to Saturday's game, took her time getting warmed up, not hitting her first shot until three minutes remaining in the first half. But once she found the net, she became difficult to stop.
Martin scored 26 points, was 3-for-4 from 3-point land, grabbed 11 rebounds, and had three assists, three blocks and three steals before fouling out late in the fourth quarter.
She could have done more, however, if it hadn't been for Alta's Morrison and her ability to play defense.
"We planned that (putting Morrison on Martin) while we were figuring out our strategy for the game," Jensen said. "We knew if we were in a man, Kenzi was going to defend her (Martin). And she did an excellent job, for sure."
Syracuse tied the score at 33 late in the third quarter and then took a one point lead, 44-43, early in the fourth because of the solid play of Martin and forward Makenlee Williams. The junior had 17 points, eight rebounds, two assists and five steals.
It was at that point, however, that the Hawks switched to their man defense. From there, the Titans' scoring halted while Alta's surged.
In what became a physical second half of play, the Titans were hit with foul trouble and four different players ultimately fouled out.
After just two free throws in the first half, the Hawks were 21-for-27 after intermission and scored their final 13 points from the foul line.
Garland, a 5-foot-3 senior who didn't play basketball last year, led the team with 17 points, three rebounds, and was 7-for-7 from the foul line. Foster added 16 points and three rebounds; Morrison had 13 points, seven rebounds, six assists and three steals; and Shurtz, who was honored at halftime as part of the Academic All-State team, totaled 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Jessica Butler was the only other Hawk to score in the game, contributing eight points along with five rebounds and one block, and Jensen was overjoyed with her contributions in the title game, saying, "Jess Butler had the game of her life tonight."
As a team, the Hawks shot 50 percent from the floor, including 42.9 percent from behind the arc, and outrebounded a much taller Syracuse team, though just by one board. The Titans committed fewer turnovers, 15-11, and scored 17 points off the Alta giveaways.
Garland attributed her team's success during tournament week to the way they came together as a family. Foster then added that it helped to be the underdogs.
"We didn't have a target on our backs, Syracuse had it," she said. "They were 48-0, hadn't lost in two seasons. We knew we had nothing to lose and everything to gain, and here we are gaining it — state champs."
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5A Girls All-Tournament team
MVP: Makenzi Morrison — Alta, junior
Erin Foster — Alta, senior
Hayli Shurtz — Alta, senior
Brittney Martin? — Syracuse, junior
Makenlee Williams — Syracuse, junior
Kelsie Bell — Fremont, senior
Britney Johnson — Pleasant Grove, junior