SALT LAKE CITY — Over the past decade, Wasatch and Judge have taken turns dominating arguably the best rivalry in 3A.
From 2005 to 2009 Judge won nine straight, including a victory in the 2008 state championship game. In 2010 and 2011, Wasatch returned the favor with a 3-0 record against Judge, including a victory in the 2010 title game and the 2011 semis.
This season, the roles have reversed again.
Thanks to Wednesday's 54-43 victory over visiting Wasatch, Judge swept the home-and-home series with the Wasps and in the process clinched the Region 10 championship.
"This is one of the hardest-working groups of young men that I've ever been around. They deserve it. As a coaching staff we've been so happy with this group on a daily basis with just how hard they worked. I'm just glad to see them get the reward," said Judge coach Dan Del Porto.
It was a wire-to-wire victory for the Bulldogs, who jumped out to an 8-0 lead and enjoyed a double-digit lead most of the game.
After the quick start, the Bulldogs struggled from the field most of the game, shooting just 37 percent. In reality, it didn't really matter as Judge held Wasatch to just 35 percent shooting behind a stellar defensive effort by Patrick Neville. He held Wasatch leading scorer Matt Pelo to just 12 points — eight below his average.
"Pat is tough. He listened to what we said about the scouting report with respect to how we wanted to guard him, and he just battled every single possession. He does not take a possession off," said Del Porto.
Neville's defense was just as good in the first meeting, holding Pelo to just nine points, definitely no easy task.
"He's done a great job on him twice, and he is a very, very good player. In the semifinal last year as a junior he killed us," said Del Porto.
Eight of Pelo's 12 points came in the fourth quarter, including four straight free throws during a stretch in the quarter when the Wasps made things very interesting.
When Neville converted a three-point play just 17 seconds into the fourth quarter to put Judge ahead 41-25, it looked as if the Bulldogs were about to finally pull away. However, behind five points from Zack Watts and four from Pelo, Wasatch used a 9-0 run to cut Judge's lead to 41-34 with 5:40 remaining.
"They got it pretty close there, and we were struggling a little bit with the press," said Del Porto, whose team committed three straight turnovers during the 9-0 run.
Judge's Christian Stark halted the run with a baseline jumper with 5:25 left, and Wasatch went nearly four minutes without scoring as Judge built its lead back to 15 with under two minutes remaining.
"We got a little anxious trying to beat (the press) with layups. I just takes a couple possessions like that. I think we're poised enough group to handle that type of situation," said Jacob Gondrezick, who led the Bulldogs with 17 points.
Alex Mancini chipped in with 12 for Judge, while Watts led Wasatch with 13 points.
email: [email protected]