We wanted to erase what happened a year ago, and this was the only way we could be satisfied. —Emery coach Lynne Tuttle
ST. GEORGE — Down 10 late in the first half against defensive juggernaut Richfield, most teams probably would’ve started panicking. Not Emery, though. It had overcome a similar double-digit lead to Richfield once already this season , and knew it was way too early to panic.
Emery just kept grinding away, getting stops, and eventually the shots started dropping as it used a big fourth quarter to pull away for the 41-36 victory at Dixie State on Saturday night to clinch the 3A state championship.
“It wasn’t very frustrating; we were confident that we were going to do what we could. We gave it our all,” said Emery’s Megan Jensen, who dominated all night with 25 points and 10 rebounds.
For Emery, the win avenged an overtime loss in last year’s 2A championship game. For Richfield, it was another frustrating runner-up state title finish in 3A.
“We wanted to erase what happened a year ago, and this was the only way we could be satisfied,” said Emery coach Lynne Tuttle.
It didn’t look good early, however, for Emery.
Richfield’s offense, which had been very passive in the previous two rounds, came out firing in the championship game knowing it couldn’t take anything for granted against an equal foe.
Emma Jones in particular looked to score early. In the previous two rounds, she rarely took a contested shot, but in the game’s first possession she took two tough shots, converting a three-point play on that opening possession.
With Richfield leading 8-7 after the first quarter, Jones hit an early 3-pointer in the second quarter and then another jumper at the four-minute mark to stretch the lead to 17-12.
Emery shot just 26 percent in that first half.
“We showed up to a fight and didn’t start fighting until later again; that’s been the story of our three games (against Richfield). We seem to come out a little tentative and timid, but we eventually get it rolling,” said Tuttle.
“They are so stingy defensively, it’s tough to get anything going with them. They get right up into you. Emery is a team if we can’t get the rhythm, it’s tough for us to get rolling.”
The rhythm started to come around in the third quarter. Lainee Jensen converted a key layup early in the quarter to cut the deficit to 25-19, and then Bailey Huggard drained a jumper at the 2:05 mark cutting the lead to 27-23.
By the fourth quarter, Emery’s offense was in full gear while Richfield’s was starting to sputter as it made just 2 of 10 shots in the fourth.
One of Richfield’s only makes in the fourth quarter came with 6:00 left, a baseline 3-pointer from Jones that put the Wildcats back in front 33-30. She finished with 14 points to lead Richfield.
The momentum was short lived for Richfield though.
Emery’s Jensen got great position inside — a common theme on Saturday — converting the layup to cut the deficit to 33-32 with 5:30 remaining.
Richfield’s next possession lasted a minute and a half and featured two offensive rebounds, but it came up empty. That’s when an unsung hero stepped up for Emery.
On a night when none of Emery’s talented guards could buy a bucket from outside, reserve junior guard Morgan Hurdsman buried a 3-pointer with 2:34 remaining to give Emery its first lead since 7-6 in the first quarter.
“I knew we were behind, and I was wide open, so I was like, 'I have to hit this' and hoped it went in,” said Hurdsman.
Emery followed with a Jensen layup with 1:20 remaining to stretch the lead to 37-33, and then sealed the championship from the free throw line as Richfield went ice cold in the fourth quarter. After shooting 39 percent in the first half, the Wildcats shot just 20 percent in the second half.
Emery, meanwhile, shot 53 percent in the second half.
“We stayed calm; we just knew if we worked hard and worked together, we would come out on top,” said Hurdsman.
Even though Jensen dominated inside for Emery, Richfield controlled the glass outrebounding Emery 31-22 and collecting 14 offensive rebounds. Nine of those offensive boards came in the second half, but Richfield only converted into second-chance points twice and those missed opportunities allowed Emery to stay within striking distance and eventually complete the comeback.
Deseret News All-Tournament Team
MVP — Megan Jensen, Emery
Kacelyn Toomer, Emery
Kinlee Toomer, Emery
Emma Jones, Richfield
Madison Roberts, Richfield
Hannah Robins, Juab