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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
East's Liana Kaitu'uis surrounded by the Highland defense in the 5A high school girls semifinal game in Salt Lake City on Friday, Feb. 23, 2018.
We knew they were going to make a run but this is just great to get out of this one. —East High coach Olosaa Solovi

TAYLORSVILLE — Leading 30-11 early in the third quarter, East high school looked like they would cruise into the 5A finals. An 11-0 run from Highland got the Rams crowd back into it but East righted the ship and had just enough to hold on for the 44-38 victory.

East and Timpview will meet for the 5A title Saturday morning at 11 a.m. at Salt Lake Community College

With East clinging to a 38-36 lead, Desarae Falatea scored inside to break what had been a 25-8 Highland run. Falatea led all scorers with 19 points and drew her coaches’ admiration for finishing strong.

“When you have a lead you start to do things you are not comfortable with and in our case that was take a lot of quick shots,” East High coach Olosaa Solovi said. “We knew they were going to make a run but this is just great to get out of this one.”

Highland got back into it on the strength of its 3-point shooting and the inside play of Svetlana Olevao. A Rams defense that forced 14 East turnovers closed off everything inside so East changed gears.

Solovi sent Falatea to the post to work what he says was a mismatch inside.

“We saw a mismatch with Desarae inside so we made a conscious effort to pull our bigs outside,” Solovi said. “Her aggressiveness and ability to play in the post gave us a huge lift.”

East was dominant early controlling the boards, the pressure with a host of players getting involved in the scoring column. The Leopards earned a 27-11 lead by intermission and had the East crowd on their feet as the girls headed to the locker room.

“It was exciting, the first half we got a little big headed but second half Highland definitely gave us a run for our money,” Falatea said. “It reminded us to step up and give it our all and not mess around.”

As loud as the East crowd had been in the first half, Highland’s crowd pumped themselves into a frenzy as the game got tighter. Falatea said the senior leadership of East stepped up to calm everyone down.

Lani Taliauli and Liana Kaitu’u, our two leaders motivated us to stay in the game and keep our composure,” Falatea said.

Olevao led Highland with 13 points and eight rebounds. East got eight points from Margarita Satini and five from Kaitu’u.

As Solovi has done throughout the tournament, Friday, he continued to pay tribute to Region 6 for helping his team be ready to face a tight, hard-nosed game.

“We’ve played at least 12 games that were really close like this and just that experience was helpful,” Solovi said. “I do believe playing in tight games really played crucial and helped us to finish.”

With the 5A finals set for Saturday morning against Timpview, Solovi says he expects the East faithful to show up and support the kids.

“The crowd, it’s like that for every East vs. Highland game,” Solovi said. “The biggest thing for our girls is they can’t be nervous, have to have fun, and we are going to finish this thing.