ST. GEORGE — Desert Hills took care of business on the opening night of the 3A girls basketball tournament.
The Region 9 co-champion, which lost a coin toss and was forced to face 15-6 Wasatch in the opening round, got contributions across the board to defeat the Wasps, 62-49, Saturday night in St. George.
The game began well enough for Wasatch, which kept the contest close early on. After losing the tipoff the Wasps were able to manage their only lead of the night at 3-2. The Thunder then opened up a three-point advantage, which it was able to sustain throughout the first quarter holding off the visitors 12-9.
Despite intense defensive efforts by Wasatch in the second quarter, the strong post play by the Thunder became too much for the visitors to handle. Desert Hills stretched its lead to 10 just before the half, but the Wasps chipped a point away with a free throw, making the halftime score 26-17.
The second half began with a scoring barrage from the Thunder and Wasatch star guard Rebecca MaWhinney. The teams traded two-point buckets on three straight series, with MaWhinney doing all she could to keep her team in the game. But she would not be able to sustain it alone and the home team began to pull away.
The undersized Wasps were beginning to feel the power of Desert Hills' inside game as the Thunder frustrated the visitors with strong play in the paint. The Thunder used this tactic to dominate the third quarter, coming out on top 42-28.
The game was basically decided after the third period, but the Wasps refused to roll over and matched the fourth-quarter scoring of Desert Hills at 18 apiece.
Afterward, Wasatch’s three graduating seniors were philosophical after their last game, including MaWhinney, who will take her talents to the next level.
“I’m so proud to be on this team,” MaWhinney, who will play for Utah Valley University, said. “I know I’ve always been the one to get the attention because of stats and whatever, but really so many games that we won were because of my teammates.
“It’s always been a team effort with us, win or lose, and I’m just so proud to have been with these guys. It’s been a really fun year.”
Fellow senior Renee Fagg, who moves on to the softball field, where she has earned a scholarship to play for Snow College after high school, refused to take the loss to heart.
“We had a positive attitude going in, which I think was big,” she said. “We wanted to win, even though we knew it would be tough going in. The hardest part is that we won’t be playing together on this court again.”
Riley Gagon, a catalyst in the Wasps' early-season success who suffered a season-ending knee injury a few weeks ago, never let that hold her back from being a team leader.
“It’s been so hard to sit on the sideline and watch, especially if we’re having a hard time,” the senior said. “It’s like I just want to jump up and help them. It’s been tough, but I’m super proud to be a part of this team."
“We have had such a great group of kids this season such great leadership," said Wasatch coach Tom Perkins. "I can’t help but be pleased with what we’ve accomplished this year.
“As far as this game is concerned, we’ve seen them before. We tried different things against them, and they didn’t work,” the coach added. “They are a very good team, but we’ve learned a lot this year. We’ve got a lot of underclassmen coming back and all we can do is to keep preparing for the future."
Kenny Bristow is a contributor to the Deseret News high school coverage for the Wasatch region. Email: [email protected]