By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Jeff Porcaro (Maple Mountain Sports)
SPANISH FORK – It certainly didn’t come easy from the Maple Mountain High girls basketball team Friday night, but the Golden Eagles successfully defended their home court to grab a share of the league lead with a 53-51 win over Region 8 rival Springville.
The Red Devils entered the game unbeaten in region games, while Maple Mountain had a loss on its slate, making this a critical home game for the Golden Eagles in a hotly contested league. Coming off a huge win over Salem Hills Tuesday, Springville was riding high on confidence and it’s defense was impressive in this one, particularly against the state’s leading scorer, Maple Mountain’s 5-foot-11 senior guard Liz Eaton.
But as seems to be the case with Eaton pretty much every night, even in the face of relentless defensive pressure, she managed to get hers and her work in the fourth period delivered the win. Considering that she had an overall rough night at the charity stripe, it was impressive that, with the game on the line and fewer than 10 seconds remaining, Eaton knocked down a pair of free throws that gave her team its final margin of victory.
Neither team had it easy getting into its offense as this one featured aggressive defense on both sides. Springville had some success in the paint early on, where 6-foot junior forward Savannah Sumsion scored 10 points in the first half, but foul trouble and some solid defense from Golden Eagle posts MiKayla Hubbard and Karlee Worthington limited Sumsion somewhat after intermission.
On the other side, Maple Mountain got some big makes from 5-9 junior guard Nicole Heyn and 5-6 junior guard Lily Jex, but its biggest story was Eaton grinding her way to another big night. The senior picked up her fourth foul right at the end of the third period and went the rest of the way carrying those four fouls.
The 3-point shot was not falling for Eaton and Springville came at her with a variety of different defensive looks. At times, it was a zone and on occasion, 5-5 senior guard Olivia Park got after her man-to-man and used her quickness to keep Eaton from getting comfortable. That left her looking to score on drives to the rim and the resulting free throws.
Park was one of the night’s major stories. Despite being the smallest player on the court, she delivered huge performances at both ends of the floor. She had four steals, but also grabbed 10 rebounds, and to top it off, Park provided the offensive spark for the Red Devils with a team-high 19 points. The point guard’s efforts played a huge part in making this a tight game right to the end.
After the Golden Eagles took a two-point advantage after the opening stanza, Springville held them to just 11 points in the second as the Red Devils took a four-point lead by intermission. They pretty held a small advantage from that point until the early stages of the fourth quarter.
That’s when coach Cory Green introduced a little strategy that got Eaton back-to-back clean looks from point-blank range. On consecutive trips, Eaton went give-and-go with Hubbard at the mid-post, passing the ball to the posting forward and then receiving a pass back as she cut past Hubbard to the rim.
The result was successive baskets the leveled the game at 43-43. Then, Jex drained a wide-open corner three and Maple Mountain was on top by three with just over five minutes remaining.
The game went back-and-forth from there, and when Park swiped an in-bounds pass leading to a reverse lay-up, it was tied at 49-49 with 2:28 to go. First Eaton and then Elli Eastmond connected on 1-of-2 free throws giving the Golden Eagles a 51-49 lead at the 1:31 mark.
Then, with just under a minute to go, Park drilled a jumper off of a Kennedy Clement pass and scored was even once again. After Eaton missed a pair from the line (she was 10-for-19 for the night), Park misfired on the front end of a one-and-one, setting the stage for the final 10 seconds.
First, Eaton was fouled again with 9.3 seconds remaining, but this time, she stepped to the stripe and coolly buried a pair. Then, Springville’s Lydia Austin, who was held to just four points in the contest, drove toward the basket at the other, but she lost the ball on the way and then was called for a loose-ball foul while in pursuit of it.
Maple Mountain missed both free throws, but with just 3.4 ticks left, there was not enough time for Springville to get anything more than a half-court heave from Park. It hit the front of the rim, but did not go in, leaving the Golden Eagles to celebrate their win.
Park’s 19 points, 10 boards and four steals led the way for Springville (5-1 in Region 8, 13-2 overall), while Sumsion added 13 points. Eaton finished with a hard-earned 22 points, 11 rebounds and four assists to pace Maple Mountain (5-1, 12-2), as Heyn added nine points, six boards and Jex finished with eight points.
Next up for the Red Devils is a Tuesday night matchup with Wasatch (1-5, 3-13), while the Golden Eagles visit third-place Spanish Fork (4-2, 9-6).