SALT LAKE CITY — The Silver Wolves from Fremont had squandered most of a seemingly safe 15-point lead in the second half, were clinging to a precarious 45-41 margin late in the fourth quarter, and desperately needed somebody to come up with a big play.
Amanda Wayment delivered.
After she missed a free throw, a mad scramble for the loose ball ensued, resembling a pinball machine going poing-poing-poing under the basket.
After a couple of offensive rebounds by her teammates, Wayment, a 6-foot-1 senior center, suddenly found the ball back in her own hands, and she banked in a wide-open layup and was fouled in the process.
She splashed in the subsequent free throw for a critical three-point play with 1:26 remaining, restoring a seven-point lead for Fremont on its way to a 54-41 victory over Bingham in Thursday's quarterfinals of the 5A girls state tournament at Salt Lake Community College.
"My two teammates got the good offensive boards before me, so that played a role because it came right to me," Wayment said of her game-turning play. "I was like, 'I don't even know what ...' and when it went in, I was like 'Oh, OK.'"
The win sends Region 1 co-champion Fremont (21-2) into the 5A semifinals for the second straight year, setting up a showdown with Brighton at 4:10 p.m. in SLCC's Bruin Arena. The Wolves, who beat Brighton by 15 points in the preseason, lost to Riverton in overtime in last year's state tourney semis, and also lost in the semifinal round to Alta in 2011.
So they're certainly hoping that, this year, the third time's the charm.
"I really feel like we just need to come out and play our basketball, stay in the moment," Fremont coach Lisa Dalebout said of Friday's semifinal battle with the Bengals. "I don't know if we have to change anything but just play with a fearlessness and with a determination to finish it. And that's kinda what we've been talking about.
"We've got a big-time opponent — Brighton is as good as they are — they're big, they're strong, they're good shooters, so we've got our hands full.
"But I honestly have a lot of confidence in these girls," she said. "They play with some savvy, they stay within themselves, and they play together really nicely. So I'm excited to see what we can do."
On Thursday, the Silver Wolves got superb performances from Wayment, who wound up with a game-high 17 points, 10 rebounds and four steals; and sophomore Harley Hansen, who had 14 points — including three free throws in the final minute to help Fremont pull away — and, most impressively, eight steals on the defensive end of the floor.
"Harley had lots of steals and that's her game; she's really good at doing that," Wayment said. "She played like a senior today. It was really nice."
Coach Dalebout agreed.
"Harley played huge for us, absolutely," she said. "She was the aggressor on the defensive end and it just kinda helped relax us, to be honest. She played with some ferocity and some fearlessness that helped our whole team. She definitely didn't play like a sophomore today, that's for sure."
Shelbee Molen contributed eight points for Fremont, while McKenzie Burrows added seven points, including four key free throws in the final 2:52, and also grabbed six rebounds. Kaelani Sagapolu pulled down 10 boards, and Sydnee Ward contributed five points and five rebounds off the bench for the Wolves.
For Bingham (13-9), Jade Loftus scored 12 points, including a couple of huge 3-pointers in the fourth quarter that fueled the Miners' comeback from a 39-24 deficit with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the third period.
Sherdyn Parker also scored a dozen points and had seven rebounds and three steals for Bingham, with Holly Sorensen chipping in with nine points and eight rebounds.
But after the Miners staged a strong comeback down the stretch, it was Wayment's big three-point play that was the decisive difference-maker — prompting a grateful mini-celebration by her teammates.
"We just went and attacked her, like 'Yoo-hoo!' " Hansen said. "We were freaking out."
"That was huge, yeah," Dalebout said.
And after that huge play, the Wolves pulled away.
"I was really pleased at the end of the game especially. They made some big plays; they pulled some really big boards," Dalebout said of her team. "They didn't have a great night, especially offensively, but we're gonna figure that one out.
"But I feel like they did a really good job of responding to things and playing through some tough stuff. ... There were just moments where they did a good job of just playing through it.
"To be honest, I know (the Miners) pulled it tight, (but) I wasn't even paying attention to the score," she said of Bingham's fourth-quarter rally. "I was telling them to do a better job on each possession and do a better job getting stops. I feel like we let up. We kind of played a little safe and it hurt us. So I think there was a valuable lesson to be learned — you've got to keep up the pressure; you've got to keep playing hard, especially offensively."
Dalebout said her squad got solid performances from several unsung heroes and can definitely learn and grow from Thursday's close call.
"We had big plays by some girls that really stepped up and did a really great job at converting on tough stuff," the Fremont coach said. "It emotionally boosted us big time. And I thought our bench did an amazing job again tonight in playing really hard. Everybody came in and just did a good job.
"There were some really big moments in the end of that ballgame where they just stepped up and made plays."