I feel emotionally exhausted. I am proud of my team. We made enough plays down the stretch to close it out. It was a great game, a great region battle, and it was fun to be a part of. —Copper Hills head coach Ben Morley
WEST JORDAN — With names like Breaunna Gillen, Milee Enger, Eleyana Tafisi and Jalyn Van Dyke set to take the court Thursday night at Copper Hills High School, the Region 3 showdown between the Copper Hills Grizzlies and Herriman Mustangs promised to entertain.
It did that and more in a game that had just about everything.
Neither team disappointed, but the Grizzlies, led by sophomore forward Lenisi Fineanganofo, had just a little bit more to give and as a result, walked away with a 54-49 victory.
“I feel emotionally exhausted,” Copper Hills head coach Ben Morley said. “I am proud of my team. We made enough plays down the stretch to close it out. It was a great game, a great region battle, and it was fun to be a part of.”
Fineanganofo stood out throughout the game, proving to be the chief weapon for the Grizzlies.
She scored a game-high 13 points, as did Gillen, nine of which came in the second half.
She also drained a pair of clutch free throws late in the game, which ultimately proved to be the game-deciding points.
“She stepped up in a big way,” Morley said.
Her performance was made all the more impressive as it was a departure from the norm.
“We have been encouraging Lenisi to be more aggressive,” Morley said. “She is so talented, and her biggest flaw is that she doesn’t attack as much as we want her to sometimes.
“She was really good at doing that,” he continued. “Even when she was missing shots, she was putting a lot of pressure on the defense by attacking the basket and playing much better than she has the past few weeks.”
From the outset it was clear that the game would be a battle, and after a closely contested and sometimes ugly first quarter between the two best teams in Region 3, the score was 10-9 in favor of the Grizzlies.
Things changed dramatically in the second period, however.
The Grizzlies clamped down defensively, particularly on Mustang high-scorers Enger and Van Dyke.
As a result, Herriman scored just four points in the quarter, two off a put-back by Jayda Van Dyke and the other pair from the charity stripe courtesy of Jalyn.
“The girls executed the game plan. I thought we defended their strongest players very well. We made them take some tough shots in some tough spots,” Morley said.
The Grizzlies' harassment of the Herriman ball handlers created more than a few turnovers and opportunities in transition.
Even when they didn’t create and capitalize on turnovers, however, the Grizzlies found a way with their offense, scoring 18 points in the quarter.
At the end of the half, Copper Hills led 28-13, holding what seemed to be a commanding 15-point advantage.
The Mustangs battled back throughout the second half, winning the third quarter behind the play of Enger, who finished with a team-high 12 points, Samantha Jessop, who finished with nine points, and Van Dyke, who chipped in eight.
Herriman carried that momentum into the fourth and final period, and before too long had cut the Grizzlies' lead down into the low single digits.
“We knew Herriman was going to make a run at us. They are just too good not to,” Morley said.
“We got a little loose down the stretch,” he continued, “and they made us pay. They were able to get to the basket more than I would like. Credit to them and their coaching staff. They stuck with it, fought until the end.”
A few late turnovers by the Mustangs and free throws by Fineanganofo and Gillen ultimately proved the difference.
“I am pretty proud of my team,” said Fineanganofo, whose efforts helped Copper Hills improve to 17-1 and 4-0 in region play. “I feel like we could have done better, but I am proud we stayed together.”