Taylorsville • Two lines formed on the other side of the curtain. On each side of the hallway outside the locker room were Alta Hawks, their arms raised high, forming a tunnel for their friends to walk through.
And on the other side of the tunnel was a frenzy of red and black. Each player who ran past the curtain and under the man-made tunnel was greeted by a thunderous roar of family, friends and fans.
That’s what happens when you beat the defending state champs. It’s what happens when you hand the 22-0 Riverton Silverwolves, last year’s Class 5A title winners, their first loss since Feb. 7, 2013.
The Alta Hawks did that Thursday night at Salt Lake Community College, defeating the No. 1-seeded Silverwolves 50-47 earning a matchup in Friday’s 5A semifinals against American Fork.
So how does one top a previously undefeated powerhouse who rolled through its season dominating blowout after blowout?
“A lot of prayer,” said Alta head coach Sean Yeager, “and a lot of luck.”
But the Hawks ensured they’d have a shot when the numbers on the clock whittled down in the fourth quarter. From the opening tip-off, Alta took the fight to the Silverwolves, being aggressive on defense - it held Riverton to 29 percent from the field - and waiting for its moment on offense. The Hawks entered the fourth quarter up 39-37 and traded lead changes for the last five minutes of the game.
It was after Riverton’s Mallory Bostic hit two free throws to give her team a 47-45 lead with 1:14 left when the Alta coaches revisited a analogy they’d used entering the game: It’s the last round of a boxing match and the bell is rung signaling 10 seconds before the round ends.
“We said maybe it’ll come down to that where we’re both just going at it down in the last two minutes of the game,” Yeager said.
Freshman Mariah Martin tied the game with a lay-up and after Madyson Quigley hit 1-of-2 free throws to give Alta a 48-47 lead with 39 seconds left. Riverton was faced with keeping its unblemished season afloat. Martin again padded the Alta lead with two free throws after Riverton’s Latisha Richards missed two free throws.
Then Alta locked down defensively and Richards’ last-second 3-point heave at the end drifted right.
“I knew that if I make these free throws then our team would beat them, so I kind of just said, ‘These things have to go in,’” Martin said.
The Hawks then sprinted to the ecstatic Alta student section to stamp the upset.
“We just knew that we had a chance that if we played together and we played hard, that we would crush them,” said Alta center Rachel McDonald, who finished with a game-high 18 points and seven rebounds. “We had a chance, and we knew that if we played with our heart and played with passion all the way through that we would win.”
5A girls’ quarterfinals recap
Brighton 61, Davis 41: Senior Maddie Chin had 16 points, while freshman Dani Barton had 15 points to pace the Bengals to a 5A semifinal berth. Brighton forced 16 turnovers and held the Lady Darts to 14 field goals. The Bengals will face Fremont in the second 5A semifinal Friday.
Fremont 54, Bingham 41: Amanda Wayment led Fremont with 17 points and 10 rebounds in the win over the Miners. Harley Hansen had 14 points and a game-high eight steals in the win over Bingham. Sheradyn Parker led the Miners with 12 points and seven points in the loss. Fremont faced Brighton in the 5A semifinal Friday at 4:10 at Salt Lake Community College.
American Fork 61, Copper Hills 51: Jenna Shepherd finally corralled the ball she’d been dribbling around all evening, held it tightly with both hands, before flipping it to the official. Then she joined the swarm of celebration as the American Fork Lady Cavemen congratulated one another at center court Thursday evening at Salt Lake Community College.
“We’re not supposed to be in this,” said Shepherd, a sophomore who scored a team-high 12 points and dished four assists. “We have nothing to lose.”
The Cavemen are playing like it.
A day after knocking off No. 1 seed Layton in the Class 5A first round, American Fork beat Copper Hills 61-51 to advance to the 5A semifinals Friday afternoon. A No. 4 seed out of Region 4, the youthful Cavemen showcased their ability in the first half by hitting open shot after open shot and also tightened up in the fourth quarter when the reality of advancing to the classification’s final four set in.
“Anytime you have a young team like that, finishing off games is always a dicey situation,” said American Fork coach Corey Clayton. “I was proud of the way we had a couple girls come off the bench and his some key shots when [the Grizzlies] were making their run.”
Guard Paige Farnsworth hit several key shots throughout the second half to stem the tide when Copper Hills clawed within 10. She hit a 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter to up the Cavemen lead to 15. When the Grizzlies cut the American Fork lead to seven with 5:36 remaining, Farnsworth, who finished with 11 points and six assists, collected a loose ball and drilled a baseline jumper.
“There’s not a lot of pressure on us,” Clayton said, “so we’re trying to see how much fun we can have this week.”
Shepherd’s calmness on the floor again allowed the young American Fork team to continue its streak in tournament. She helped solve full-court traps, found cutting players and even hit a deep 3-pointer at the end of the first half to give the Cavemen a 18-point lead.
“I think it’s just the love for the game,” she said, “and I don’t want to lose. I will not lose and I will try to do anything I can so I don’t lose.”
Taylor Moeaki chipped in 10 points for the Cavemen, while Kylee Andrus had a game-high nine rebounds. Copper Hills’ Savannah Sandberg had a game-high 16 points, while Shirsten Wissinger had 14 points, including three 3-pointers.
5A girls’ schedule
• Alta 50, Riverton 47
• Brighton 61, Davis 41
• Fremont 54, Bingham 41
• American Fork 61, Copper Hills 51
• Alta vs. American Fork: 2:30 p.m.
• Fremont vs. Brighton: 4:10 p.m.
• Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.