Cedar City • A school in the desert of St. George might be expected to know about droughts and know how to celebrate when one finally ends.
And that’s what happened Saturday night at the Southern Utah University Centrum when Desert Hills finally won an elusive Class 3A girls basketball championship after finishing second the last two years.
In beating Morgan 57-43, the Thunder basically turned the tables on the ball-hawking Trojans. Morgan is known for raising havoc with its full-court press and ball-hawking ways. While Desert Hills didn’t press, it did swipe the ball numerous times. The teams had just one loss apiece coming into the final night.
With senior guard Blair Bliss bombing 3-pointers, sophomore Mackenzie Done hitting driving layups and center Haley Bodnar dominating the inside, the Thunder had just too much talent for Morgan to overcome.
Even Desert Hills freshman Ashley Beckstrand got into the act, scoring six straight points in the critical third quarter when Morgan made a run to cut the lead to five.
Perhaps the rare February thunder and lightning storm that hit the St. George area late Friday proved to be an omen for a Thunder team that simply refused to be disappointed a third straight season.
Morgan trailed by just six with 2:05 to play in the third quarter. But Desert Hills (25-1) then put on a defensive clinic, holding the Trojans scoreless for over eight minutes and going on a 12-0 run.
The sense of relief and joy could be seen on the faces of the Thunder team and coach Chris Allred as the final seconds ticked away. Beating a worthy opponent by double digits left no doubt that this was 3A’s best team.
"I’m almost sad that it’s over," Allred said. "We worked so hard to get to this game. As the day was going on, I wanted to slow the day down so I could enjoy this day a little bit more. The game goes so darned fast."
Bliss, who led all scorers with 17 points, said the girls’ parents got together and made the team bracelets that said "the third time is the charm."
"We know what it takes to win because we have been here two years in a row and we just know how bad it sucks to not come through at the end," she said. "This was our greatest goal … This is everything and more. I can’t explain it. Every situation out there, we knew exactly what to do. Our coaches prepared us for every situation."
Bodnar, who has been a force in 3A basketball the past three years, scored 12 points, many of them coming early in the game, in her final game for the Thunder. She almost seemed overwhelmed by the moment.
"We worked so hard for this," she said. "We were going to come out and do all of the little things and I think that shows. I can’t even explain how happy we are. This has been a long season and we have worked so hard. I am so glad it ended this way."
Morgan, which finished 23-2, got 14 points from Rashel Blazzard. But the Trojans had trouble hitting key shots when they were trying to stage a comeback.
"Desert Hills didn’t outplay us, they outshot us," said Morgan coach Brad Matthews. "And that’s about it. In basketball, you have got to make the shots. And they were just not falling for us."
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