SALT LAKE CITY — Down five at the half, Pleasant Grove went into the locker room and flipped the switch. It’s the same switch the Vikings have been flipping all season, and Friday’s 5A semifinal against rival American Fork was no different.
“The entire season we’ve kind of been, I hate to say it, a second-half team,” said Pleasant Grove’s Matt Conway.
It’s not a bad thing if it works, and it worked again Friday. Pleasant Grove used a strong second half to rally past American Fork for the 68-65 semifinal victory and book its place in Saturday’s 5A state championship game against Lone Peak at 4 p.m.
The Vikings used an 8-0 run early in the fourth to build a 57-49 lead with 4:54 remaining, and it took care of business at the free-throw line the rest of the way, making 9 of 11.
“We’re close to 80 percent as a team, which is pretty remarkable as a high school team from the free-throw line," said Pleasant Grove coach Randy McAllister. “That adds up to a team not giving up leads too often at the end of games.”
American Fork did well to keep it close with solid execution in the final few minutes, and cut the deficit to 66-65 with 2.7 seconds remaining on a Brendan Bailey 3-pointer.
Riley Court single-handily preserved the win from there. He sank two free throws to up the lead to 68-65, and then deflected American Fork’s long inbounds pass to seal the victory.
“It’s been our goal all year. We knew we were capable of it. This is what we want,” said Court, who came close to a triple-double with 15 points, nine rebounds and seven assists — on top of 9-of-10 shooting from the line.
Conway added 20 points for the Vikings, with Hayden DeHoyos chipping in with 14 on 4-of-5 3-point shooting.
The Cavemen duo gave Pleasant Grove fits most of the game and particularly in the first half, as they combined for 25 points to spark a 32-27 halftime lead.
McAllister challenged his players to be more assertive on both ends of the court at halftime, and he never doubted they would.
“For some reason this team at halftime makes the best adjustments (out of) any team I’ve ever coached,” said McAllister. “They came out in the third quarter, defensive pressure was the whole key to the game. (They) got out on their guards a little bit more, put some pressure, which didn’t let them get it inside so easy, and they killed us first half getting the ball inside.”
American Fork still enjoyed a 28-16 scoring edge in the paint, but Pleasant Grove made up for it with clutch foul shooting when it mattered most.
On Saturday, it seeks the school's first state championship since 1961.