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Amy Donaldson, Deseret News
Panguitch's lone senior, Jordan Bennett, poses for a post-game picture with Kapri Orton, center, and Brittney Henrie, right.
Our coach always tells us that offense wins games and defense wins championships. —Panguitch's Kapri Orton

RICHFIELD — Most top-ranked teams might be a bit nervous heading into halftime of a postseason game snarled in a tie with a rival squad when shooting an abysmal 29 percent.

Not the Panguitch Bobcats.

In fact, with their game tied against upset-minded Rich, the Bobcats felt they were doing exactly what they needed to do to win their 1A semifinal game Friday afternoon at the Sevier Valley Center.

“Our coach always tells us that offense wins games and defense wins championships,” said Kapri Orton after Panguitch rode their stifling defense to a 44-29 victory and a chance at a 1A state championship. “It’s a little nerve-wracking, but if we miss a play on offense, we just have to get it back on defense.”

The 15-15 tie, was in fact, perfect for head coach Curtis Barney.

“I wrote a big 30 on the board before we came out,” Barney said of his pre-game talk with players. “I said, ‘If we can hold (Rich) under 30, we’re going to have a good chance of winning. The further it goes on the other side of 30, the closer the game is going to be. We came in at half, 15-15, and the defense looked good. The offense didn’t look very good. But we knew all week our defense was going to hold us. We just had to get something clicking on offense.”

Barney decided to rely on his team’s traditionally good perimeter shooting, and it paid off.

“We elected to spread the floor out, and let some of these guards…penetrate, and then kick it out,” he said. “Then we had Jordan Bennett hit a couple of big shots…and that really opened things up just to get a few buckets.”

What the Bobcats did was hold the Rebels scoreless while they went on a 16-point run. In fact, the Bobcats only gave up 14 points in the second half, meeting their coach’s goal.

Bennett’s performance was everything her teammates have come to expect from their lone senior. She hit two big 3-point shots and became a one-woman wrecking crew in the paint. She finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. Henrie added 11 points and 8 rebounds, while Orton finished with nine points and two steals.

“She is always positive, and she’s always able to step up when we need her,” Henrie said of Bennett. “Like she did today with those 3-pointers. She really kept us in the game.”

Added Orton, “She’s always keeping us motivated, helping us out and keeping us smiling.”

Bennett said it can be isolating to be the only senior on a team.

“I just don’t have anybody that’s my age, so I haven’t always been with the other players,” she said. “My freshman year, I had somebody with me, but after that I was alone. But then we just started playing together, and we just became a family, and I thought, ‘This is so much fun.’”

Rich was led by Kierra Groll and Amber Smith, who scored nine points each, while Julia Hopkins added five points and four rebounds.

Barney praised Bennett’s leadership and play.

“Thanks to her for being the only one,” he said, acknowledging it isn’t always easy. “But she has done a good job of staying in there, and she was a big contributor and got a lot of rebounds tonight, and hit those big shots for us. We’re just happy to be back in the finals.”

The Bobcats will take on Milford, a program making its first appearance in the 1A state championship game.