CEDAR CITY — Fresh off its first playoff win in a decade, North Sanpete rolled into Thursday’s 3A quarterfinals feeling confident, but also fully aware of the cliche that beating a team three times is difficult.
Well before that cliche had a chance to materialize, however, North Sanpete grabbed the early lead and never relinquished it in a convincing 48-37 victory over Hurricane at Southern Utah University.
“I thought we came out strong. We had our ups and downs for sure, but we fought through and we just got past this first game. It’s important to get the first-game jitters out,” said senior Taylor Gordon, whose team beat Hurricane twice in preseason tournaments.
Leading 13-6 after the first quarter, North Sanpete stretched its lead in each of the next two quarters as well, building a 14-point advantage at one point midway through the fourth quarter.
“It’s been awhile since North Sanpete came to state. Getting that early lead just kind of took the weight off their shoulders, let them go out and play relaxed,” said North Sanpete coach Randi Griffith.
In fact, the last time North Sanpete won a playoff game prior to last week’s first-round win was at SUU back in 2004 when the Hawks lost to Morgan in the 3A championship.
Coincidentally enough, those teams will meet again in this Friday’s 3A semifinal at 4:10 p.m.
“We watched them back in December at the Sevier Valley and we said, 'We’re not there yet,' but hopefully by the end of the season we’ll have a chance to see what we can do against them,” said Griffith.
Gordon led the way for North Sanpete on Thursday with 16 points, with Jacey Dunn chipping in with 11.
“Taylor, she makes our team better. She lets everybody else relax 'cause there’s so much focus on her,” said Griffith. “Even with that focus she’s able to get her points, but it opens up other players and she’s unselfish.”
The Hawks' interior defense was just as important.
“We knew coming in that they were a lot longer than us, very athletic in the post. It was going to be our focus to try and keep them from playing through the post, keeping them off the block and taking care of the offensive boards,” said Griffith.
Griffith was very pleased with how her girls executed the game plan in the first half, but they lost some of the intensity in the second half, allowing Hurricane to cut the deficit to nine early in the fourth quarter.
Down the stretch, though, North Sanpete knocked down 8 of 13 free throws to pull away for the win.