CEDAR CITY — Of all the games in this year’s 4A state tournament, the semifinal match between Cedar and Lehi was supposed to be among the best, if not the cream of the crop.
The Redmen and Pioneers, after all, were both region champions — Cedar in Region 12, Lehi in Region 10. The teams had a combined three loses between them, though in fairness all three defeats belonged to Lehi.
They had even met before, in the preseason — a game Cedar won by 17 points — which seemingly set the stage for a competitive rematch.
In truth, the Pioneers were largely expected to give the Redmen their toughest test of the year.
There were times during the Friday afternoon game at the America First Event Center on the campus of Southern Utah University when Lehi did just that.
Ultimately, as has been the case with every opponent they have faced this season, Cedar was too much.
Cedar defeated Lehi 53-43 and in doing so clinched a berth in the 4A state championship game.
It was Johnston who keyed a hot start for the Redmen. She scored 8 of her 13 points in the first quarter, nearly all of which came with the opening three minutes of the game.
As a result, Cedar leapt out to a 16-2 advantage, which is nothing new.
The night before against Stansbury, the Redmen jumped out to a 14-1 lead to start the game, and as it turns out, hot starts are the team’s modus operandi.
“That is what we do,” head coach Corry Nielsen said.
“I mean, we are always just really excited to play,” Johnston added.
As for their hot start against the Pioneers, Johnston and her teammates believed themselves faster than Lehi.
“We knew they had good post players, but that we could outrun them,” Johnston said, “Our post player (Denim Henkel) is a lot smaller and she is really fast so everyone just ran.”
“That’s how we score, in transition,” Nielsen added.
With Cedar on the cusp of running away with it, Lehi responded.
First it was Macie Warren, who scored 5 points in the closing moments of the first quarter to pull the Pioneers with 11 points.
Then in the second frame Lehi took control, eventually going on a 14-4 game-changing run of their own.
Lehi drew as close as 2 points before a 6-3 Cedar run, powered by Torgerson, gave the Redmen a 5 point halftime lead.
“Every team is going to go on runs,” Johnston said. “We knew they’d battle back, but we still had momentum going into the locker room. We were still up 5.”
That momentum was on display in the third quarter, as Cedar once again rushed Lehi. Johnston and Laws combined for 7 early points and the 5-point edge quickly reached double-digits.
From there, the Cedar defense took over, and the title favorites limited Lehi to only 7 points in the period
“It was just effort. We wanted it,” Johnston said.Comment on this story
The teams played to a draw in the fourth, but by then the game was over.
There was little to no celebration on the part of Cedar, however. The Redmen aren’t satisfied with just a championship game berth.
“It is really exciting, but we aren’t even done,” Johnston said.
“As far as I am concerned, we’ve played three of four games,” Nielsen added.”We still have one left.”
Cedar will battle the winner of the semifinal contest between Ridgeline and Uintah for the 4A state championship Saturday at 5 p.m.