TAYLORSVILLE — Trailing by 14 points at halftime, the Layton Lancers weren't afraid of losing. They were afraid of not showing who they really are.
"We were embarrassed the first half, and we wanted to show everyone that we were a good team," said head coach Van Price after the Lancers came back to beat Alta 63-57 in the 5A quarterfinals Wednesday at Salt Lake Community College. "This is one of my best (wins). This ranks up there with the best."
During the first quarter Alta and Layton traded points, with Layton owning a 16-14 lead at the buzzer. But foul trouble, including being whistled for a charge, caused the Lancers to play tentative.
"We've done this before," said Price, who rattled off a couple of double-digit deficits that didn't end as well as Wednesday's win. "They're used to doing it. I wish we didn't start out slow. It wasn't that bad, but then we had a little foul trouble, and some kids had to fill in who were a little nervous. It was a struggle for a while."
The second quarter belonged almost exclusively to the Hawks as they played almost impenetrable defense and hit 5 of 7 free throws.
"Before the coaches came in (to the locker room), we were just talking about how it was really about heart," said Livia Treseder, who finished with seven points, seven rebounds and two steals. "We wanted it. We worked hard for this. ... I was really afraid. It's state. You only have one chance, so fear was setting in for sure."
With nothing to lose Price took a chance that asking his struggling players to execute a full-court press would help them fight their way back into the game.
"We're down that far. It was our only means of getting back," said Price. "And that's what brought us back in the games (where) we've been behind before. They thrive off of it. We don't always go to it until our backs are against the wall." One of those in foul trouble was the team's leading scorer, Maddi Smith. She picked up two fouls in the first quarter and was one of three players called for a charge.
That made her a little less willing to drive to the basket until the third quarter when she became Layton's go-to option. She finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals.
No bucket was bigger than the 3-pointer she hit at 6:29 in the fourth quarter. It tied the game at 44 points. But Madyson Quigley scored six straight points for Alta, and drew another charge. Price pointed out that the sequence stalled the Lancers' momentum a bit, but the press provided enough turnovers that Layton was able to actually take the lead on a jumper from Smith with 1:43 to go in the game.
Layton succeeded thanks to contributions from nearly every player who stepped on the court. Ashley Price finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, three assists and three steals, while Smith finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, three assists and two steals. Jaden Andersen finished with 16 points, six rebounds and a steal, and provided a lot of energy off the bench.
Price said it took everyone's best effort to defeat the Hawks, a No. 1 seed and co-region champ.
"Alta is so good," said Price. "I think they had a chance to go all the way. We just tried to stay composed. When they lost their composure, I was glad they didn't have a halftime to fix things."
Alta head coach Kristi Jensen, who announced her resignation to her players after the game, said her team was prepared for Layton's press.
"They just started being stagnant," she said. "They couldn't do anything. In the first half we were putting up good shots, (and) we had great help defense. In the second half, that disappeared."
Jensen said she told her team that a double-digit lead didn't guarantee anything with another half of basketball to play.
"I told them, 'Van Price doesn't go away,'" she said. "You've got to continue playing hard. It was frustrating." It was especially heartbreaking because it was her last game coaching the Hawks. Her husband accepted a job in Logan and the family will move to Cache Valley.
"It's been amazing," Jensen said of her 13 years at Alta, including nine as a head coach. "My first few years were pretty rough. Every year we got better and I'm really going to miss the kids. ... I would never leave these guys. But it's a great opportunity for my family."