TAYLORSVILLE — Sky View point guard McKenley Hellstern might have felt frustrated and frightened as it appeared her team's 4A playoff game was slipping away from the Bobcats, but she responded with calmness and confidence that helped pull her team from the brink of elimination to a first-round win.
"It was crazy," said the senior, who scored 16 points in Sky View's 64-60 win over Salem Hills Tuesday night at Salt Lake Community College. "Coming out and getting up by so much and then, them coming back it was intense the whole game. I'm proud of my team for sticking through it to the end. I thought we played great."
The third-ranked Bobcats started strong and finished the first quarter with an 18-7 lead. But the Skyhawks changed up their defense and found a little offensive juice of their own to score 23 points and take a 30-29 lead at halftime. Sky View didn't score over the final 2:20 of the second quarter and despite making adjustments, the Skyhawks came out in the third quarter and continued to own the momentum on the strength of an 18-1 run.
"Our girls were a little devastated to think that we'd had them by 10 points, and then let them get ahead of us by halftime," said Sky View head coach Kimber Hall. "(Erica) Egbert played great for them. She's averaging 12 points a game, I think, and she just played her heart out."
Hall said he made some adjustments of his own, but mostly he just asked his players for more effort. When Egbert hit back-to-back 3-pointers, Hall felt like the game might just be out of reach as Sky View owned a double-digit lead.
"When they hit the second 3, I called another timeout and we went man-to-man," Hall said. "I actually thought to myself, 'We're done because the momentum is gone.' But the girls kept going to work, chipping away, chipping away, and we got the momentum back."
He admitted he may have been a bit frustrated himself when Salem Hills came out in the fourth quarter and scored the first five points.
"I had to chew on them a little bit because we let them back in the game — again," he said. "But we got the momentum back and held onto it that time." The difference, he said, was that Hellstern decided to take the game into her own hands. She drove the lane over and over and was fouled five times and scored a sixth time. She hit 8 of 10 free throws to seal the win.
"We just made some key baskets," said Hall. "I thought McKenley Hellstern ran our offense very well. She doesn't score a lot, but she scored 12-15 points tonight, so she stepped it up."
Hellstern said she just felt the need to score more as the Salem Hills defense kept the Bobcats from doing what they wanted much of the time.
"I was feeling it," she said, laughing. "So I thought, 'Well, my other teammates are being pressured so I should help them out a little and take some shots."
The other difference-maker was a player who normally leads the team in scoring — forward Tara Goldman. She finished with a team-high 19 points and was critical down the stretch with two putbacks as the Skyhawks tried to claw their way back into the game.
"It was right down to the last possession really," said Hall
Added Hellstern: "It got scary at times, but I wasn't too worried. Not to be cocky or anything, but I was just confident in our team."
"It was definitely a game of swings," said Salem Hills head coach Kyle Francom. "We got down big early, and then Erica Egbert led us to a 10-point lead in the third quarter."
He said Sky View did a good job adjusting to their changes throughout the game.
"They made some good adjustments to it," he said, obviously disappointed with the loss after his team played so well. "To have a lead like that in the third quarter and end up losing is tough."