Orem • It’s how you want to win a state championship.

Two equally talented squads, both with lights out shooters, fierce defenders and flat-out speed. Salem Hills and Juan Diego were loaded with talented players and strutting with the bravado to match the hype.

The difference in the Class 4A boys’ basketball state title match is Salem Hills brought senior James Nelson.

The Skyhawks came out on top of the slugfest 64-55 to complete the title sweep. The Salem Hills girls’ team won the state title earlier in the day. It was Juan Diego’s third consecutive loss in the state championship game.

From the opening tipoff to the final buzzer, it was a back-and-forth affair with Nelson leading the Skyhawks with 27 points.

Nelson was fearless in front of a raucous crowd. Whether swatting away balls at the rim, diving into passing lanes or finishing strong at the rim, Juan Diego had no answers.

“He plays like a champion,” Salem Hills senior Tyson Bishop said about Nelson. “He’s a shooter and knows where he needs to be to make the play. He’s been doing this since he was a freshman.”

Salem Hills coach Jimmy Degraffenreid said Nelson brought the same energy to every practice and game.

“He’s just awesome, and you saw it out there today,” Degraffenreid said. “He’s been doing this for us all year.”

Bishop and Nelson set themselves apart in the fourth quarter, which saw six lead changes. Nelson leaped and intercepted an errant pass with his team up five with 3 minutes left. Nelson launched a half-court pass to Bishop, who finished with authority at the rim.

It brought down the house.

“We’ve worked all year for this moment,” Bishop said. “As a team, they weren’t going to stop us.”

Juan Diego brought its best to the fight, and Nelson said the victory was even better playing against a talented team.

“Juan Diego’s reputation speaks for itself,” Nelson said. “They’re here every year. A team like that can make a run at any time. We couldn’t get too excited — just win every possession.”

Bishop proved he had ice water in his veins in the final moments. He went 4 of 4 at the line to secure the victory.

“It’s not over until it’s over,” Bishop said. “We played every minute and did everything we could to bring this championship home for the best fans.”


• James Nelson leads Salem Hills with 27 points. He finishes with eight rebounds and blocks a shot.

• Jason Ricketts scores 16 points, while Matt Kitzman finishes with 15 points for Juan Diego.

• Salem Hills goes 19 of 28 from the free-throw line.