Taylorsville » American Fork's Haley Holmstead could sense it in the locker room before the game against Riverton. This wasn't going to be anything like last year's trip to the state title game.
"Last year's game went by so fast," Holmstead said. "It was halftime and then it was over."
This year, Holmstead and the rest of her teammates wanted to make sure to be in the moment, enjoy every second from hearing the near-capacity crowd cheer as they were being introduced to the very last minute of regulation.
When the final buzzer sounded, the feeling hadn't fully sunk it. But they were completely immersed in everything going on around them.
After a 51-40 win over Riverton gave the Cavemen their first girls' basketball state title in school history at Salt Lake Community College on Saturday, there wasn't anything left to do but celebrate.
"It means more [because we were here last year and lost]," American Fork Corey Clayton said. "Last year, the game was mentally too fast. We blinked and it was over. I think that was the advantage of already being there."
The Cavemen wasted no time taking the lead and although Riverton stayed close, Holmstead made sure American Fork always had the edge. In the first quarter, she had 11 of American Fork's 15 points. She finished the game with a game-leading 24 points.
That wasn't the only reason the Cavemen lead. Defense and rebounding were emphasized throughout the game.
American Fork outrebounded Riverton 32-26 and had six steals as team. Riverton had fewer turnovers than the Cavement but American Fork did a tremendous job of keeping the ball out of the hands of Riverton's biggest offensive threats. Nikki Ybarra defeneded play-making guard Alle Finch and held Finch to six points.
"I know Finch is a good player and she's good off the dribble," Ybarra said. "She creates a lot of chaos and I knew I just had to shut her down."
The biggest lead for American Fork came in the third quarter, when the Cavemen were up 14 points. Twice Riverton rallied to get the lead below 10 points. When Riverton's Dani Lockhart made a layup after running down the ball to save it from going out of bounds and then coming back on the court only to get an assist from Finch, it seemed the Silverwolves had momentum. Then American Fork went on a 6-0 run.
But Riverton didn't stop fighting. With 3:30 remaining, Angie Smith nailed a three-pointer and Chelsea Sorensen made a layup to cut the lead to 42-36.
Ultimately, it was Riverton's inability to make short shots and layups that did the Silverwolves in. Meanwhile the Cavemen made big free throws. In the last two and a half minutes, American Fork knocked down nine of 10 free throws.
"There's nothing to be ashamed about. The better team won," Riverton coach Ron Ence said. "We missed some easy baskets and they're so talented. But I'm proud of our team. We played hard from start to finish."
American Fork wins its first girls' basketball state championship.
» Haley Holmstead scores a game-high 24 points for the Cavemen.
» American Fork hits 9 of 10 free throws in the last 2½ minutes.