Taylorsville • Syracuse likes playing at a frenetic pace, but the fast tempo combined with the nerves that come in the state tournament were working against the Titans on Monday evening.
Junior forward Courtney Starks stepped in to settle down things and set the Titans back on course in a 51-43 victory against Kearns in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs at Salt Lake Community College.
Starks, one of two Syracuse players with state tournament experience, had two key rebounds, two baskets and two steals in a third-quarter spurt that left Kearns (7-15) trying to play catch-up the rest of the game.
"We were very nervous coming in today," said Starks, who scored eight points. "Keeping me under control helped keep our team under control.
"I just tried to tell them it's just another game. We play four state championship games here. You have to go out there the same way each game."
With sophomore point guard Jayda Bovero struggling to find her shot, the defending champion Titans (11-10) turned to seniors Takenna Hamblin (game-high 15 points) and Logan Harker (12 points).
Syracuse found its stride during an 18-9 run in the third quarter and scored in transition against a tiring Cougars defense.
"We responded like we have all year and we responded in the second half," Syracuse coach Rob Reisbeck said. "We needed to pick up the intensity and be a little bit more patient defensively."
Harker's 3-pointer with 5 minutes, 15 seconds to play gave the Titans a 46-37 lead, and one possession later, Starks scored in the post to push the lead back to double figures.
Syracuse advanced to play Region 4 champion and tournament favorite Bingham (22-0) in Wednesday's quarterfinals. It's a rematch of the Miners' 50-36 victory Jan. 3.
"We played them without two of our players, so that will be a big change," said Hamblin, referring to the absence of Starks and Bovero in the first meeting. "They definitely get after it on defense, get their hands in your face. They're not going to let us get away with anything."