CEDAR CITY — In his eight years coaching the Sky View Bobcats, head coach Kirk Hillyard hadn’t been a part of a start to a game quite like the one his team pulled off Friday night at Southern Utah University’s America First Event Center.
At the very least, he couldn’t remember one.
“What a start,” Hillyard said. “We had a bunch of guys step up and hit shots. I don’t think I have had a team like that in quite a while.”
The Bobcats came roaring out of the gates in their 4A semifinal contest against the Payson Lions, so much so that just minutes in they appeared destined for a state title game berth.
There was junior star Mason Falslev, who hit three first quarter 3-pointers, only to add 12 second quarter points.
Then there was senior Malik Horman, who added a pair of 3-pointers of his own in the opening frame.
Finally, there was junior Sam Phipps, with 7 first half points.
All told, the hot shooting start gave the Bobcats a commanding lead, one that despite a few struggles late, ultimately proved unbeatable.
As a result, Sky View defeated Payson 70-60.
Falslev led the way with a game-high 35 points, while Phipps added 11. In total, eight Bobcats found their way into the scoring column.
The Sky View offense was simply just clicking.
“That is a great team effort and a good team win for us,” Hillyard said. “We had a lot of other guys step up too. We outscored them 20-8 and then 16-9 in those first two quarters. When you can do that, you like your odds to win.”
“Our shots were just falling,” Falslev added. “It was awesome. To be hitting like that, it is just awesome.”
Many of the Bobcats’ early points came in transition, a fact both Hillyard and Falslev attributed to the team’s improved defensive play.
“With Mason (Falslev) and Malik (Harmon) up top, their size and length, and then Sam (Phipps) down low, it bothers teams,” Hillyard said. “It is hard to get easy passes to the wing and get shots up. It is just a credit to their effort, keeping their hands up in passing lanes.”
“Our defense leads to our offense and that is kind of what happened in the first and second quarters,” Falslev added. “We have been working on our defense so much and it paid off.”
It certainly didn't hurt Sky View’s chances that Falslev was at his very best Friday, that after going through somewhat of a shooting slump to start the tournament.
“Some players are like that,” said Hillyard. “He was feeling it tonight and got it going early. He found his shot, found his stroke and he was feeling it. That was pretty obvious.”
“I have had a couple of off games and I was just waiting for my game to come,” said Falslev. “It just happened to be this one.”
For as great a start as the Bobcats had, the finish, namely the fourth quarter, was anything but.
After leading by 20-plus points for a large portion of the game, things fell apart for the No. 4 seed.
Payson, led by Logan Sorensen, who finished with 23 points, turned the game into helter-skelter affair. The haphazard nature of play let Sorensen hit four fourth quarter 3-pointers, including three in a row.
“I was a little bit nervous,” said Hillyard, “but we put some different guys in there to help us handle the ball a little bit. They were playing helter-skelter and Sorensen caught fire. Holy cow. He made some amazing shots in the fourth quarter.”
“There was some nervousness,” Falslev added, “but we calmed down. We had it.”
Sky View did in fact weather the storm, thanks to some timely plays by Falslev as well as the perfect free-throw shooting of Cole Deboard.Comment on this story
“We probably could have done a better job maintaining our composure, but we can fix that,” Hillyard said. “The kids understand what is at stake tomorrow. They are excited.”
More than that, they think they can bring home the title.
“We kept telling them, you have three seasons — preseason, regular season and postseason,” said Hillyard. “When you get to the postseason, no one cares about your record. Everyone is 0-0. The kids bought in; they believed that. All we need to do is believe it for 24 more hours.”