For people who pay attention to RPI numbers and tournament seeding, it’s no surprise that the top-ranked Valley High School girls basketball team punched its ticket to the championship Friday evening in Richfield.
Valley defeated Milford in a 62-41 game, earning a trip to the season finale against Piute.
“We take it one game at a time,” said coach Dustin Cox. “That’s our goal, that’s our plan.”
Valley started out dominant in the first period, creating a 21-10 edge. Milford cut it back by five points before the half, but Valley was still commanding a 29-23 advantage.
Esther Cox, who led all scorers, posted 19 points for Valley and helped fuel the first-half surge.
However, Milford wasn’t ready to quit. Milford’s Jaleana Tsosie nailed a key shot, followed by a trey by teammate Madysen Griffiths. Then Tsosie, who tallied 14 points in total, dropped in two more from the charity strip to pull Milford to within one point with 3:38 to go in the third quarter.
“They’re competitors, no doubt about that,” Cox said.
Thanks to a 3-pointer from Esther Cox, though, Valley was able to gain a 39-35 spread by the end of the third period.
Then Ruth Cox hit key shots down the stretch for Valley, preventing Milford from closing the gap. She hit a downtowner that kicked off a 19-point run, including nine shots made from the foul line in the final minute. Ruth Cox ended with 11 points for Valley, as did teammate Paige Harris.
“Paige has really led us,” Cox said. “She’s really stepped up and been a tremendous leader on this team keeping them calm and keeping them focused.”
Next for Valley is region rival Piute in the title bout.
“We’ve beat Piute and Piute has beat us,” Cox said. “It’s touch and go on how any of the teams show up to play … The joy is not knowing. We’re just going to show up and do our best.”
Piute had a rougher time of it Friday night as the Lady Thunderbirds defeated Wayne in a 53-51 slugfest.
“That was a great battle between two great teams,” said coach Tim Westwood. “Being a coach is not a sought out occupation and it’s not for the faint of heart because your heart doesn’t beat normal in games like that.”
Wayne pushed Piute to the very end.
“Wayne is a super team,” Westwood said. “We got lucky and got the breaks there at the end.”
Wayne took an aggressive stance in the first quarter, leading by as many as seven points before Piute was able to put together a 9-2 run to knot the game at 13-all as the first quarter ended.
The lead would change hands 10 times in the second stanza, but a bucket by Piute’s Hannah Wittwer put the Lady T-birds up by one point at the half.
Piute’s girls, led by Whittwer, went on an 11-point jaunt in the first half of the third period, creating a 39-29 edge.
Just as it seemed like Piute was comfortably in the lead, Wayne came back and scored the next 11 points, recapturing the edge.
With two seconds to go in the stanza, Piute Tera Morgan hit a 3-pointer to recapture the lead.
Wayne’s Hanna Williams stormed back onto the court, making two quick buckets to reclaim the lead. Shots from teammates Emma Hallows and Andee VanDyke put Wayne up by six with four minutes to go.
Piute’s Ashton Winckel then drained a downtowner, and followed it up with shot from inside the arc to get Piute back within a point.
“When they went up on us, I thought we had to score this next possession,” Westwood said. “That was a big shot to put us back in the game.”
Morgan dropped in a point for Piute from the foul line to knot the game.
Finally, a pair of shots from Talbot in the last minute and a half — a 3-pointer and a 2-pointer — earned Piute the win.
Kassidy Westwood led Piute with 21 points.
The Lady Thunderbirds now take on Valley at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield Saturday, March 6, at 4:30 p.m.