Sam Merrill snipped off a piece of the net, then pumped his fist above his head.
Not just for him, not just for his Bountiful team that had just survived a Class 4A title game with a 44-43 win. He remembered how long it took. How close they’d come before.
StorylinesSam Merrill leads Bountiful with 23 points on 10-for-19 shooting.
» Dalton Nixon leads Orem with 13, but misses a pair of free throws at the end.
» The lead changes four times in the game.
"It feels good, it’s a relief," he said. "All these guys last year and a couple years ago: This is for all of them."
On Saturday afternoon at the Huntsman Center, the Braves shed a label that burdened them for years: "Never quite good enough."
It took 23 points from Merrill, who helped lift them back from a first-quarter deficit. It took 14 rebounds from Jeff Pollard and six steals from Jordan Bleak. It took mental fortitude to keep up with an Orem squad that spent the fourth quarter matching the Braves blow for blow.
And at the end, it took a little luck: Tigers star Dalton Nixon took the free-throw line with a chance to lead with 2 seconds left, and he missed both shots.
"Finally the basketball gods maybe smiled on us, and we got a break," coach Mike Maxwell said. "And we got a rebound."
The clock ran out after Zac Seljaas picked up the rebound, and finally it was Bountiful’s turn to be the team of destiny after falling just short of the title in the last few years.
It wrapped up a game of high drama, featuring at least three future Division I players. The margin was never larger than four, as Cooper Holt, Quinn Peters and Nixon clawed to keep Orem in it.
The final minute kept the suspense taut. Bleak hit a layup from a Merrill pass. Then Peters laid one in off an offensive rebound. Then Peters had a steal and a layup. Then Merrill answered to take back the lead.
"They’re great guys, and it’s awesome to go out and play with them," Seljaas said of the competing Tigers. "It’s the kind of game you dream about."
The contest wasn’t without some late, scrambling plays. Bleak forced a steal with 12.4 seconds left, but Bountiful incurred a 5-second violation before getting a pass out.
The Tigers whittled the clock down before Nixon went up to the line. Maxwell called timeouts before each unsuccessful shot.
"I was glad we had a few timeouts left to call," he said. "I kind of had a bad habit of maybe banking those things too early, but it was nice to have him think about it in the state tournament with the championship on the line."
Bountiful last played in the 4A title game in 2011, falling to Highland. In 2012, the Braves were considered the No. 2 contender, but fell to the No. 1, Orem. Last year, they were derailed by a halfcourt shot by Sky View’s Jalen Moore right at the buzzer.
"We thought, ‘Just keep going. We gotta get through this adversity and these tough times,’ " Merrill said. "We found a way to pull it out."
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