Our zone has been our calling card all year long because we’re pretty long and athletic. —Juan Diego coach Drew Trost
OREM — Leading 51-38 with two minutes remaining in Friday’s semifinal against Orem, Soaring Eagle senior Matt Kitzman dove for a loose ball and ended up on the scorer's table. It was that kind of night for a Juan Diego defense that clawed and scratched and held Orem to 26 percent field-goal shooting in a 57-40 win.
Soaring Eagle senior Jason Ricketts led Juan Diego with 21 points and eight rebounds. Kitzman hit just two field goals but made 11 of 13 free throws in the fourth quarter alone and finished with 16 points.
“We’ve been to the state championship each of the last two years and this win feels good but we really want to win tomorrow,” Kitzman said.
On Nov. 28, Orem handed Juan Diego a 66-55 loss, with Orem players Ike Richards, Ross Reeves and Shem Johnson combining for 53 points. On Friday, the amoeba-like zone of the Soaring Eagle stopped Orem in its tracks. The Tigers converted 2 of 19 3-pointers and made just 1 of 17 field goals in the fourth quarter.
“Our zone has been our calling card all year long because we’re pretty long and athletic,” Drew Trost, Juan Diego coach said. “We haven’t played zone in years but I just looked at this year’s team and said we’re kind of the Syracuse of high school so maybe we’ll just own it.”
Trailing 27-18 at intermission, Orem put together a run.
Ross Reeves hit a pull-up 15-footer, then Ike Richards hit an inside basket, a free-throw and then a reverse layup. Reeves put back an offensive rebound, Puka Nacua found Richards with a pretty feed then stole a pass and finished at the rim to cut the lead to 34-31 late in the third period.
Ricketts, who was 8 of 9 from the floor, hit the last basket of the quarter as Juan Diego led 36-32 heading into the final period.
“We executed the game plan really well,” Ricketts said. “We knew it was a tough game and we were well prepared and got the win.”
Juan Diego made just three field goals in the final period, but Kitzman took over, attacking the rim, and putting the final dagger in a terrific season for Orem by making 11 of 13 free throws.
“Matt’s been awesome all year, he’s our region MVP and he’s been so steady,” Trost said.
Early in the year Kitzman made the switch from two-guard to point guard. Prior to region play, he struggled from the free-throw line but on Friday, Kitzman showed nothing but clutch when it mattered most.
“He’s been a three-year starter but always at the two-guard,” Trost said. “He moved to point guard this year and he’s done everything to exceed my expectations.”
Juan Diego hit 4-8, 3-pointers and converted 19 of 24 from the free-throw line to improve to 22-5 on the season. Raimoana Tinirauarlii grabbed nine rebounds, scored six points and dished out three assists.
Juan Diego meets Salem Hills Saturday afternoon at the Utah Community Credit Union Center on the campus of Utah Valley University. Salem Hills slipped past Sky View 70-60 in Friday’s first semifinal.