Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Alta/American Fork during the 5A girls basketball quarterfinal game in Salt Lake City Thursday, Feb. 23, 2012.

SANDY — With the region title essentially on the line in Thursday night’s rivalry rematch between the Brighton Bengals and the Alta Hawks, the Hawks barely came away breathing from a late Bengal comeback in a hotly contested 53-50 victory.

“I told the girls this was the biggest game of your careers coming in, and now it was just the biggest win of your careers," said Hawks head coach Kristi Jensen. "And yet our next game (home vs. Copper Hills) is now the biggest game of your lives."

Having now swept the Bengals (5-2, 12-5) during the regular season, the Hawks (5-2, 9-9) are now in position to control their own destiny for the Region 3 title with three games to go.

Thursday's game came right down to the wire as the Hawks held on for dear life after a furious 10-2 run by the Bengals to start the fourth quarter. That tied the game at 43 after a Maddy Chin layup.

Brighton got three Chin field goals during the run, along with an Alyssa Hirchi layup and two free throws from Sierra Engle.

The Bengals then took the lead briefly when Lindsey Johnson scored on a layup to put her team up 45-43 with two minutes to go in the game. That was Brighton's first lead since late in the second quarter. The Bengals' stifling defense on the Hawks kept Alta at bay, as the Hawks only scored two points through the first six minutes of the fourth.

As it turned out, the last two minutes were a free-throw battle for Alta, which hit seven from the line — including four by Adrianna Jensen — and ended the game on a 10-7 run.

Physical play was an enormous part of this rivalry game as fouls were hard and frequent all game long. The Hawks shot 73.9 percent from the line (17-23) while only missing six all night. It went 8 of 14 from the line in the fourth alone. The Bengals shot 57.1 percent (8-14) from the line.

“They (Brighton) came back but we didn’t lie down, as we didn’t turn it over and made clutch free throws and that can make or break a game,” coach Jensen said.

Jalissa Bagley came through huge on the night for the Hawks with 12 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and a blocked shot.

“We worked as a team in a huge game tonight,” said Bagley. “Our communication helped us as we locked down on defense, and stopped them from going to their right.”

Chin and Johnson’s efforts led the Bengals back into the game as they scored 18 and 15 points, respectively. Johnson had 11 in the second half.

Chin was on from the start as she had six points in the first quarter to keep her team close — only down by two at the end of the first. Madyson Quigley for the Hawks came right back at Chin as she had seven of her 13 points in the first.

Brighton went on an early 7-0 run and led 21-20 on a Sammie Smith 3-pointer in the second quarter, but Alta came back with an 8-2 run to finish the half leading 28-23.

Adrianna Jensen finished with 10 points, two steals, and was a perfect 6 for 6 from the strip, which proved huge in the end for the Hawks.

“I’m proud of everyone tonight: Rachel Jensen (3 points) played big off the bench, great defense; and (Elsa) Ferre (six points, six rebounds) played great. It was a total team effort,” said coach Jensen.

With the win, Alta pulled into a tie for first place with Brighton. However, if the Hawks win out, they would claim the league's top playoff seed because of their season sweep over their archrival.

“We still have important games left. We need to come prepared every game and prepare ourselves mentally to win out,” said Bagley.