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Matt Gade, Deseret News
Riverton's Rebecca McDougal grabs a rebound past the outstretched arm of Viewmont's Kauri Tye during the first round of the 5A state tournament game held at Salt Lake Community College's Lifetime Activities Center on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014.
I love my team. I'll do anything for ’em, and if that means sacrificing yourself and flying into the bleachers, then if that's what it takes to help your team win, you've got to do it. —Riverton's Shelby Richards

TAYLORSVILLE — As Tuesday's 5A girls state tournament game wore on through four full, fiercely physical quarters of play, the Vikings looked like they might rise up and slay the giant.

But then the giant awoke.

Top-ranked and undefeated Riverton, ranked No. 20 in the nation by USA Today, trailed for most of its tournament opener against a determined and upset-minded Viewmont team, which had to win a play-in game just to get into the 16-team tourney field.

But with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, Shelby Richards and the Silverwolves found a way to win — just as they have 21 other times this season.

Richards drove for a 3-point play to tie it at 47 with 2:41 remaining, igniting a 16-5 game-ending run that gave Riverton a 60-52 victory over the Vikings at Salt Lake Community College.

Riverton coach Ron Ence was not the least bit surprised that Viewmont gave his No. 1-ranked team such a tough first-round tourney tussle.

"Viewmont is one of those teams I picked for the top four at the first of the year, as other coaches did," he said. "They've got some great players; it would've been no embarrassment to lose to them, and I'm just sure proud of my girls for hanging close and giving ourselves a chance to win at the end. And I thought that's what they did.

"I respect Viewmont; if it would've been one-and-done for us, so be it, because they're a good team. It would not have been an embarrassment, but I'm glad we won it."

After Richards' game-tying, 3-point play, her next shot in the lane gave Riverton a 49-47 lead with 1:54 left — a lead the ’Wolves would never relinquish. Richards' steal led to a pair of free throws by Mallory Bostic, and Latisha Richards hit six straight free throws in a 13-second span of the final half-minute as Riverton pulled away at the end.

"Shelby had a great game," Ence said. "She had a great senior day and she fought all the way to the end. There was a few times when she was just not going to be denied and just came up with a great, individual athletic effort.

"Latisha's a senior, and we've got confidence in her to make those free throws in the end."

Shelby Richards scored seven of her game-high 21 points in the fourth period, while Bostic added 11 points for Riverton (22-0), which will face Alta in Thursday night's quarterfinals. Latisha Richards and Rebecca McDougal chipped in with eight points apiece for the Silverwolves, who trailed from late in the opening period until early in the final frame.

"I just knew, everyone knew coming down to the state tournament that it's the state tournament and everyone wants that title," said Shelby Richards, an athletic 5-foot-9 senior guard. "So every game's gonna be a good game because everyone's here to win it.

"I knew they were a good team," she said of Viewmont. "No. 12 (Caitlyn Larsen) and No. 31 (Katie Toole), I think they are amazing players. They're very, very athletic and just watching them at the start I knew this was going to be a good game. And those are the kind of games that are worth playing, where you've just got to go out there and battle and fight and see what you can do as a team."

Shelby Richards' all-around, all-out effort included a gutsy first-half play when she crashed hard into the scorer's table trying to save the ball from going out of bounds. And she did so successfully.

"I love my team," she said with a smile. "I'll do anything for ’em, and if that means sacrificing yourself and flying into the bleachers, then if that's what it takes to help your team win, you've got to do it."

Toole scored 18 points and Larsen added 17 for Viewmont (12-11), which led by as much as eight points in the third quarter and staged such a valiant effort in nearly pulling off what might've seemed like a stunning first-round shocker — but not to Ence or to the Vikings' own coach, Clint Straatman, who was proud of his team's spunky performance, and rightfully so.

"They play hard, they play the game the right way, they play as a team," he said. "And they got the ball to the people who needed it, the people who were doing the scoring.

"We were a team. … We've got great kids. Our record doesn't indicate who we were; we were one of the top teams in the state, and we showed it right there.

"We made a couple of mistakes that kinda cost us, but they fought hard and they knew they were better," he said. "You could tell by the way we were playing — we knew we were a better team — and it just didn't work out for us."

Coach Straatman said his underdog squad was not the least bit intimidated by Riverton's glossy record, and it showed all game long.

"We weren't afraid of them at all, and a team could easily be that way," he said. "But our record doesn't indicate the team that we are. We had a couple of girls come to the team late and they were kinda trying to find themselves, and I felt like we were finally finding ourselves. And if we won that game, this team could have easily won the state championship."

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com