CEDAR CITY — Through a quarter of Thursday night’s 4A quarterfinal game between the Ridgeline RiverHawks and the Spanish Fork Dons, the RiverHawks — Region 12 champions and a tournament favorite — looked a little out of sorts.
Shots weren’t falling, turnovers were an all-too-frequent occurrence and the Ridgeline defense — ranked sixth in the classification — wasn’t at its absolute best.
It was to be expected, RiverHawks head coach Ainsli Jenks believed.
“I think always that in the first quarter it is hard to see what is going to happen,” Jenks said. “Everybody kind of tries to figure out what is going on. It was a state tournament game and both teams are super excited, the girls gearing to go. Both teams had a lot of energy and you just had to try to find a way to settle down.”
The RiverHawks did just that, much to the delight of their fans and the dismay of the Spanish Fork faithful.
Ridgeline erupted for 25 points in the second quarter and 18 in the third, all the while holding Spanish Fork to just 14 points over the same two periods.
The eruption was more than enough as Ridgeline defeated Spanish Fork 68-37 in the America First Events Center on the campus of Southern Utah University.
Spanish Fork was paced by Taylor Stewart with 12 points.
All told, 11 RiverHawks found their way into the scoring column, and yet, as has been the case all season with Ridgeline, it was defense that keyed the victors.
“We did some defensive adjustments, talked to the girls about getting defensive stops and then transitioning,” Jenks said. “I think that was key, getting a stop and then getting up the floor as fast as we could.”
All the transition opportunities, created by the defense, only aided the RiverHawks' offensive attack.
“I think it was transition buckets,” Jenks said of her team’s 25-point second quarter. “Not all of them were necessarily at the rim, but those that weren’t we still took the ball into the paint and then kicked it out for an open shot. Our offense and defense worked together in combination tonight.”
Ridgeline entered the break with a commanding 37-12 lead, but the No. 1 seeded side didn’t skip a beat when the players came back out for the third quarter.
“Something we always talk about, no matter what the score is at halftime, is that the game is 0’s. That is something we have tried to teach these girls, you have to play two complete halves," Jenks said. “When we were in the locker we weren’t talking about the score. We were talking about what we had to do. We weren’t done playing. It was 0-0. I thought their energy was good that third quarter because of it.”
Eventually the RiverHawks energy level did wane — Spanish Fork won the fourth quarter 15-13 — but Ridgeline could afford the slight letdown.
“By the time the fourth quarter came around I think there was a little bit of lag,” Jenks said. “They were tired. It is hard when you are away from home, and you’ve played hard all game. I think it was only natural to see some lag. They still played hard, they were just a little winded.”Comment on this story
With the win, Ridgeline advances to the semifinals for the first time in school history, where the team will take on the Uintah Utes.
“It is super exciting. They have worked for this for a long time,” Jenks said. “What people don’t see is all the work they’ve put in outside of the season. This team is really special. They love to compete. They love to play hard and they have work to do. They have business. We are excited, glad that we won. This is a great win, but we have another game to play tomorrow.”