OREM — Midway through the second quarter of the quarterfinal contest between the Juan Diego Soaring Eagle and the Hurricane Tigers, played Thursday morning at UVU’s UCCU center, things were going swimmingly for the underdog Tigers.
The No. 3 seed out of Region 9, Hurricane was not only leading the game, they also were doing so having benefited from just three points from star senior Jackson Last.
The top-seeded Soaring Eagle, on the other hand, had not been bad so much as they were just inconsistent. There were moments where they looked like the Region 11 champs and other occasions ... not so much.
“We were pretty inconsistent throughout the game,” Juan Diego head coach Drew Trost said. “We would look great at times and then would really do some silly things that were a little uncharacteristic.”
That fact, evident throughout the contest, made a four-minute stretch toward the end of the second period all the more important.
Led by senior Jason Ricketts, the Soaring Eagle outscored the Tigers 16-5 to close the first half. That run gave Juan Diego an eight-point halftime lead and ultimately proved to be the difference.
Despite repeated Hurricane rally attempts in the second half, mostly engineered by Last, Juan Diego emerged with a 58-54 victory and earned a berth in the 4A semifinals.
Ricketts finished with a double-double, with 16 points and 11 rebounds, while teammate Matt Kitzman added 15 points. Last, meanwhile, paced Hurricane with a game-high 21 points.
“I thought we did good. It was a good game overall,” said Trost. “You also have to credit (Hurricane). They fought hard and they weren’t going to give up. They have some seniors with some pride. They kept playing hard and they battled back and battled back.”
“We had a good game-plan,” added Ricketts. “Especially against (Last). He is a really tough player and it was a tough game. They hit some crazy shots and we were able to keep our heads up and execute the game plan.”
That plan consisted of two main goals: Get the ball into the post on offense and contain or at least limit Last without double-teaming on defense.
As was the theme of the game for the Soaring Eagle, there were times when they executed well and other times when they didn't.
“We are big and pretty talented inside and we wanted to keep pounding the ball inside,” said Trost. “When we could do that we did really good. Other times we would have some silly turnovers. At one time we had three turnovers in a row and they scored every time. That was huge.”
As for Last, Trost added, “He is an awesome player. We wanted to contest everything but not so much that he’d get the ball to other people. We were fearful of trapping him a little bit and just tried to get a hand up. He played a great game.”
With Last leading the way, Hurricane got as close as three points, 54-51, and again at 57-54 with a minute remaining. Clutch free throws from Ricketts and Gabe Soto sealed the win for Juan Diego, however.
“I just tried to compress, chill and knock those free throws down,” Ricketts said.
With the win, Juan Diego advances to the semis, to be played Friday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m. They will be pitted against the No. 1-seeded Orem Tigers, in a rematch of its first game of the season.