I thought the pressure felt more on us. We’ve been there, a couple of (these) kids, this is their third semifinal, and I thought we were the ones who seemed a little rattled. But they regrouped and played hard and did a good job. I’m very pleased. —Bryce Valley coach Gary Syrett
RICHFIELD — Austyn Brinkerhoff paced the sideline helplessly watching his teammates battled for a chance at a 1A state championship.
“My worst fear came true,” the Bryce Valley senior said of fouling out of his team’s semifinal game with fourth-ranked Manila at the Sevier Valley Center Friday night. “But I have confidence in every one of the guys coach puts in, and I love them all We’re a team, and I knew they’d take care of my mistake that I’d made.”
His teammates did just that with a 53-43 win that allows fifth-ranked Bryce Valley to take on a region rival — either Panguitch or Piute — in Saturday night’s championship game.
While Brinkerhoff said it was personally agonizing for him to watch his teammates' fight from the sideline those final two minutes of the fast-paced, physical semifinal game, he knew they’d practiced just this situation. The team also had the leadership of fellow seniors Easton Syrett and Tate “All Day” Leech.
“Austyn is a huge part of our team, so when he went out, I knew I had to step up,” said Easton Syrett, who finished with 14 points and five rebounds. “We went through practices like that. I knew I had to keep my composure. I turned it over a couple of times, and that didn’t help.”
What did help was Leech hitting some clutch three-point shots in the third quarter that gave Bryce Valley some relief from the suffocating inside game of Manila.
Leech finished with a team-high 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and four steals. Brinkerhoff added six points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals. Manila got leadership from Jordan Lucio, who finished with 20 points, nine rebounds and three steals. Burke Paulsen added nine points, while Garrett Potter finished with eight points.
Manila came out in the first quarter and appeared to catch Bryce Valley on its heels.
“I was surprised,” said head coach Gary Syrett, a second cousin to Easton. “I thought the pressure felt more on us. We’ve been there, a couple of (these) kids, this is their third semifinal, and I thought we were the ones who seemed a little rattled. But they regrouped and played hard and did a good job. I’m very pleased.”
Manila jumped out to an 11-7 lead, but Bryce Valley bounced back in the second quarter taking a 23-20 lead into halftime. Bryce Valley looked to be putting the game away in the third quarter, but Manila battled back, pushing the team to its limits.
The difference, the coach said, is when Leech hit some big outside shots that forced Manila to spread its defense.
“Their 2-3 zone is excellent,” Syrett said. “Very impressive. They do a very good job of taking away what you want. I thought (getting uptempo, transition baskets) was the key,” he said. “We finally got rolling downhill. We got momentum, and Leech stepped up and hits some big threes. Those were big at key moments of the game.”
Brinkerhoff and Easton Syrett said that they expected Manila to “punch them in the head.”
“They came out super intense, and we kind of had to step up and match it.”
As for Leech’s key perimeter shots, the boys laughed.
“We call him ‘All Day,'” Brinkerhoff said, as Leech laughed to himself. “Sometimes it’s ‘No Way’, but tonight it was ‘All Day.’ He’s always been clutch for us.”