Ogden • As the crow flies, it’s less than five miles between the high schools in American Fork and Pleasant Grove. But the two schools had to go much farther north to settle who would break a long, long drought in boys’ basketball. And who would be the best of the best in Class 6A for the 2018-19 season.
It was American Fork (24-3) that won its first title since 1979 after beating the Vikings 66-57 at Weber State University.
“Forty years, forty years. We talked about it every day, coach talked about history,” said Caveman senior Trey Stewart, who finished with 18 points in the win.
Ryan Cuff, after a successful run at Dixie High, took the American Fork job in the offseason and said he embraced the challenge of ending the four decades of frustration.
“When we made the move, it was all-in,” said Cuff, who became the first coach to win state championships at three schools — Lone Peak, Dixie and American Fork. His son, Tanner Cuff, co-led the victors with 18 points while grabbing a team-high eight rebounds, and played a crucial role as the Cavemen pulled away from Pleasant Grove (24-3) in the third quarter.
The Vikings trimmed a onetime nine-point deficit to two when Casey Brown hit four straight free throws. But Cuff then scored the game’s next six points — two field goals and two free throws — as American Fork went up 44-36 with two minutes left in the third.
The closest Pleasant Grove would come after that exchange was when Kael Mikkelsen hit a 3-pointer with 2:35 left to make the score 56-53. After a pair of layups, one from Cuff followed by an answer from Tim Nichols, Cuff found Stewart cutting to the basket for a crucial score at the 1:40 mark for a 60-55 lead.
“We looked forward to thinking we could do something like this,” said Ryan Cluff of the move to the American Fork job. “It had been 40 years since they had done something like this. I’m just proud of them, the way they hung in there and got it done.”
The game featured a pair of 7-foot seniors bound for Pac-12 schools next year: American Fork’s Isaac Johnson (Oregon) and Pleasant Grove’s 7-4 Matt Van Komen (Utah). Both players weren’t able to get their inside scoring games up to usual standards, but Johnson hit a big 3-pointer with 2:03 left in the second quarter as part of his 10-point, seven-rebound night.
Van Komen, who was on the losing end of the Class 6A title game a year ago when Pleasant Grove fell to Lone Peak, finished with six points and 10 boards. While Van Komen and his fellow Vikes were on the court in that game, Johnson was watching. In fact, American Fork didn’t even qualify for the state tournament field in each of the last two seasons.
“We were just able to see the way the other teams felt like, they seemed so happy afterward,” said Johnson, who felt that Van Komen’s prior experience in the state championship game didn’t give him any major incentive over-and-above what the American Fork players had. “Sure, he knew what it felt like to lose, but he didn’t know what it felt like not to make it,” Johnson said. “We wanted this bad.”
* American Fork wins its fifth state title, but the first since capturing the Class 3A crown in 1979.
* The Cavemen are led by seniors Tanner Cuff and Trey Stewart, who each score 18 points.
* Pleasant Grove, seeking its first championship since 1961, loses in the 6A finale for a second year in a row.