OGDEN — The Springville Red Devils were the laughingstock of 4A at the beginning of the season. They started the season dropping their first eight games.
Then, suddenly, the Devils started making the punch lines to the jokes — winning 12 of 13, including 11 straight to earn the No. 1 seed from Region 8.
Still, despite the ranking, doubts blossomed and thoughts of 'Really, how good are they guys?' Those lingering questions were answered in the first round at Weber State with a 60-45 win over Box Elder.
"We did a good job defending, shooting (and) playing as a team," said Springville coach Chris Kitchen. "We didn't rebound as well as I would have liked to, we let them stay in the game on offensive put-backs, but other than that I thought we did a pretty good job.
In the first quarter, the Bees put the Devils in an early 10-4 deficit when Brant Mecham drained a 3-pointer along with Shad Watson, Chad Talbot and Justus Brown who combined for the other seven points.
However, Springville would then react faster than Bruce Lee.
The Devils would capture its first lead of the game 14-12 after forcing Box Elder to miss five straight shots. The run could quickly be attributed to Nathan Israelsen who poured in nine points in the quarter.
"Nathan Israelsen came to play tonight. He did a great job, he really got us going," said Kitchen.
Israelsen finished with 16 points, six boards, three assists and three steals.
After Box Elder regained the lead at 19-18 when freshman Watson connected on a trey from the wing, Springville's Matt Sumsion scored on a baby hook to give the Devils the lead once more — this time for good.
With 4:48 left until halftime, Mecham was whistled for his third foul.
The call would be a noticeable influence on the game. It forced the Bees' most prolific scorer to switch his offensive attack completely. Rather than attacking the basket and crashing for offensive boards, Mecham lingered around the arc.
Stepping outside his comfort zone, he would finish 1-10 from three-point territory and 4-15 from the field.
As the two teams continued to exchange buckets throughout the third quarter, Box Elder had dipped into the Devils lead and cut it 31-29 midway through the period when Mecham connected on two free throws.
On the ensuing possession, Springville's guard Neal Gardner would complete the biggest sequence in the game bar none.
The 5-foot-9 autumn-haired guard pulled up from deep, and drained a 3 from the far side corner. Then, after forcing a Bees' turnover, Gardner caught the ball and immediately penetrated. While attempting a layup, he was hacked across the arm — giving him two freebies, both of which hit nothing but twine.
In less than a minute, Springville's lead had grown to seven.
"It was a huge, we have a lot of confidence in Neal and his shooting. He's a great shooter and he had four threes," Kitchen said of the series. "I guess you could always say, 'What if he misses that shot?' Well, it's early in the game and we got to hit those shots and stood up and hit it."
With Springville's offense, reminiscent of Dean Smith's four-corner spread he employed at North Carolina, time became a major factor with the newfound cushion.1 comment on this story
With 4:03 remaining in regulation, the Devils were able to swing passes around the world for what seemed like an eternity — finally getting fouled with 2:58 left.
"That's the brand of ball that we want to play, where we're just going to run four-out motion," Kitchen said. "So that forced them to foul us earlier than they probably expected. Then our kids stepped up and hit some free throws."
In the final three minutes, Bradley Kitchen would hit 8-10 free throws.
The Devils finished 20-26 from the charity stripe, compared to Box Elder's 6-8.
With the win, Springville advances the quarterfinals and will meet Bountiful Thursday at Weber State.