MORGAN — Coming in to Thursday night's girls basketball game in Morgan, both the Lady Trojans of Morgan and the Bear River Lady Bears sported identical 4-0 Region 11 records.
So both teams knew the winner of this game would have a leg up in the region standings and take early control in the battle for the league crown.
After a back-and-forth first quarter, Morgan turned on the afterburners in what ultimately proved to be the decisive second quarter, and the Trojans eventually emerged as victors against the scrappy Bears by a score of 84-47.
It was Morgan's seventh win in a row.
The first quarter was a frenetic, high scoring affair. Both squads tried to impose their will defensively — Morgan with a full-court zone press, and Bear River with a tough man-to-man — but both wound up getting burned by patient passing that would find open players for layups and easy baskets. Senior Kelli Smart was the hot offensive player for Bear River, scoring nine of the Lady Bears' 14 points, as Morgan lead 22-14 after eight minutes.
Morgan coach Brad Matthews decided to call off the press to start the second quarter and play straight up man-to-man. It paid immediate dividends.
With Senior Forward Ashley 'Spud' Garfield and junior center Kelsey Henry leading the way, the Trojans raced out to a 48-20 halftime lead, holding Bear River to six points in the second quarter. Garfield finished with 18 in the half, with Henry banging in 10 hard earned points in the paint.
"We scored points in the first quarter, but we also gave up points," said Matthews. "They were scoring in transition; that's when we decided to go man. We had a great second quarter, scored a lot of points, and put the game away."
Bear River coach Van Park thought his team suffered from some jitters as well as some miscommunication in the decisive second quarter.
"We gotta do a better job of getting signals into people," said Park. "My voice doesn't carry well, and half the team, every time we called something, didn't know what we were running. We turned the ball over three or four critical times in a row. We need to work on mental toughness; we were a little awestruck after they got some quick baskets."
Bear River came out at the start of the third intent on cutting into the Trojan lead, getting three offensive boards with and ensuing put-back and foul for a three-point play on the first play of the quarter. But the Trojans stuck to their game plan of tough man defense, and on offense they were looking to swing the ball and find the open player.
Morgan senior sharp-shooter and starting 2-guard Shaelee Pentz, who has struggled to find consistency with her shot for the Trojans this season, stepped up in a big way, knocking down shot after shot from long range to keep the Lady Bears at bay. Pentz would finish with 19 points.
"My shot felt good tonight, I was finally in rhythm. They are finally starting to fall, and my coaches keep telling me to keep shooting," she said. Asked about her team's play, Pentz added, "Tonight we had good team work, passed the ball good, and played good team defense. The second quarter was great, but even though we were ahead, it felt like we were neck and neck (with Bear River)."
The Trojans enjoyed balanced scoring, with Garfield scoring 20 points, Pentz 19 and Henry 18.
Park thinks his team's defense needs to be a little tougher. "We are not a sit-back-and-let-them-do-what-they-want kind of defense, and that's what we were doing. We allowed them to pass and cut where they wanted, and did not put enough pressure on them."
When asked about the Trojan's BYU-bound Garfield, Park was very complimentary.
"There's a reason she's going to BYU," he said. "I've watched her since was a little girl. She was always out there shooting and playing in between quarters and during time outs, 'cause she loves the game. She's so smart with the ball. It's fun to see a girl that understands the game and plays it so well."
Bill Bateman is the father of five daughters, and spends a lot of time at high school sporting events. He covers local sports for the Morgan County News.