Orem • Juan Diego made it all the way to the state championship game the last two seasons, only to see its season end in heartbreak.
The Soaring Eagle want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
They took the next-to-last step Friday by outmuscling Orem 57-40 in their Class 4A boys’ basketball state semifinal.
Passionate senior Jason Ricketts, who found the hoop with ease for Juan Diego, led the way by going 8 of 9 from the field for 21 points while also grabbing eight rebounds.
Ricketts bent down and was overcome with emotion as the final buzzer sounded, grateful to have a final shot at the state championship.
“Going back to the championship means a lot to me,” he said. “The key word is revenge. We don’t want to lose another final, so we need to be sure to rest up and get ready for tomorrow.”
Because he plays with so much emotion and energy, energy sometimes can be at a premium for Ricketts.
“He is such a talented player,” Juan Diego coach Drew Trost said. “It was nice to see him keep his composure and to see him stay mentally focused. When things don’t go his way sometimes, he reacts poorly. But I think he did an incredible job tonight really doing it all for us.”
Even though the Soaring Eagles came away with the victory, Trost couldn’t help but wonder how playing in consecutive days is affecting his team.
“This three-eday format is really hard on all of us,” he said. “Now we have to spend all night planning for the game tomorrow, and sometimes you have to worry about fatigue and the legs getting a little tired. But that’s just the way it is, and we just got to do the best we can.”
Matt Kitzman contributed mostly from the foul line for the Soaring Eagle, going 12 of 13 from the line and sinking some key buckets down the stretch. He finished with 16 points.
“Early in the season, I struggled with my free-throw shooting, but I made some tweaks to it and I was hitting them today, and that’s all that matters,” Kitzman said.
Juan Diego sealed the win by sinking 14 of its 18 free throws in the fourth quarter to stave off Orem’s rally attempt.
Ross Reeves scored 15 points to lead the Tigers, who only shot 26 percent from the field in the game.