5A girls’ basketball: Buzzer-beater propels American Fork into title game
Molen leads Fremont over Brighton in other Class 5A semifinal.
Published: February 28, 2014 09:56PM
Updated: February 28, 2014 11:25PM
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Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune Alta's Mariah Martin floats a shot in the lane during 5A semifinal basketball game against American Fork at SLCC Bruin Arena/Lifetime Activities Center in Taylorsville, Utah Friday, February 28, 2014.

Taylorsville • Buried somewhere beneath the sea of red and black screams was Jenna Shepherd. For a good minute, the American Fork sophomore couldn’t see anything and couldn’t hear much either. It didn’t matter.

She was at the bottom of that transcendent dogpile seconds because of her step-back 26-foot 3-pointer, which beat the buzzer and the Alta Hawks to move the No. 4 seed Cavemen to Saturday’s Class 5A state championship.

American Fork’s 46-44 win over Alta will be long remembered for Shepherd’s deep 3-pointer, which almost didn’t happen. The guard was sprung loose by center Maile Richardson on a pick with 3.2 seconds left. Shepherd grasped the ball and roamed around the corner of the court and briefly lost control of it.

But she collected it and fired just in time and drained her most important shot to date.

“That’s just fun,” said Shepherd, who finished with a game-high 18 points, five steals and four rebounds. “To do it in a game is just unbelievable.”

American Fork coach Corey Clayton said afterward that he doesn’t call many plays, but added that the play he called with 3.2 seconds trailing by one was one Alta recognized and defended quite well.

“I don’t think plays win games,” Clayton said. “I think players win games.”

And Shepherd’s shot was set up by a series of events by other Cavemen. Freshman Taylor Moeaki drew a foul with 5.4 seconds left as American Fork was down two to the Hawks. Moeaki hit 1 of 2 free throws, but thanks to the hustle of Richardson, the ball was forced off of Alta with 3.2 left.

“We just play until the clock says zeroes,” Clayton said. “That’s just how we play. We’ll play until they say, ‘You don’t get to play anymore.’ ”

For much of the fourth quarter, American Fork was chasing Alta, as the Hawks’ guard line of Rachel Jenson, Mariah Martin and Madyson Quigley kept American Fork at bay with timely jumpers and free throws. But the young American Fork team, which Clayton said plays nearly oblivious to the stage, seized the final minute with timely defensive possessions and a monumental 3-point shot from its sophomore leader.

“You just don’t realize what you’re doing,” Clayton said of his team’s youthfulness, “and it’s good. If I could figure out how to make seniors that way, we’d be in business.”

But the No. 4-seeded Cavemen are in business as they enter Saturday afternoon’s 5A title game — another game in which they have nothing to lose. Shepherd said it’s been the team’s motto all week.

“We’re just using the house’s money,” she said, smiling.

Fremont 59, Brighton 52 • Lisa Dalebout pounded on the locker room inside Salt Lake Community College waiting for the door to swing open and partake in the celebration. The Fremont girls’ basketball coach waited as the Silver Wolves hollered in elation following their win over Brighton to advance to Saturday’s state title game.

The door eventually opened and Dalebout let out a “Heck yes, we did it!”

Fremont did. A year after losing in overtime in the 5A semifinals to the eventual 2013 champions Riverton, the Silver Wolves are now four quarters away from their own crown. Junior guard Shelbee Molen busted out of her mini-slump, scoring a game-high 26 points — including hitting four 3-pointers — and stretching the Brighton defense with her timely shots.

ckamrani@sltrib.com

Twitter: @CKTribune