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We wanted Rob (Crowther) to have the ball. So far (this season), he’s been our ‘steady Eddie. —AF coach Doug Meacham

AMERICAN FORK — The Elite 8 basketball tournament was created four years ago to give Utah’s best traditional programs a chance to test each other early in the season.

As the host, American Fork has felt the pressure to succeed. Last year, however, the Cavemen were pummeled by Copper Hills in the second round and went on to finish with an 11-12 record and endured a rare miss of the 5A state tournament.

Coach Doug Meacham’s squad had a chance at revenge Friday night and took advantage.

Rob Crowther scored 13 points, Trey Stewart added 11 and Isaac Johnson 10 as American Fork improved its record to 5-1 by holding off the Grizzlies 54-53 and advanced to Saturday’s championship game.

“Last year, there were several games where we were a basket or two away,” Meacham said. “Execution and free throws. That’s how a lot of those were decided and this had the feel of a tournament game. We have a long way to go, but it sure felt good.”

American Fork will play Olympus in the tournament’s title contest at 5 p.m. The Titans, who won the 4A championship two seasons ago and were the runner-up last year, defeated Corner Canyon 83-74 in the other semifinal Friday. Earlier, Bountiful downed Brighton 59-58 and Davis edged Bingham 67-64 in consolation-round contests.

Copper Hills, which made it to the 5A semifinals last season, led early in the game but couldn’t match American Fork’s shooting. The Grizzlies rode the scoring of Treven Allfrey’s 22 points to stay close and then rallied from a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to give the Cavemen a welcomed non-region test.

Dallin Mildenhall, one of Copper Hills’ top shooters, made his only 3-pointer of the night that narrowed the gap to 52-50 with 5.1 seconds left. However, after a timeout, Meacham drew up an inbounds play to get the ball to Crowther and the senior guard was quickly fouled and calmly made both shots.

“We wanted Rob to have the ball,” Meacham said. “So far (this season), he’s been our ‘steady Eddie.’”

Copper Hills, which shot just 7 of 21 from 3-point land, made another 3-pointer at the buzzer, but it left the Grizzlies a point short.

“They didn’t shoot like this the last time we played (last year),” said Copper Hills coach Andrew Blanchard. “Once they got their confidence, they were a different team.”

American Fork connected on 18 of 38 shots (47.4 percent) for the game and Crowther, Stewart and Johnson’s efforts helped the Cavemen to an 8-of-15 effort from 3-point range.

Crowther was also a perfect 7 of 7 from the free-throw line.

Bruce Smith grew up in Boise, Idaho, and is a longtime newspaper sports writer. He writes primarily high-school sports articles for the Deseret News.