The Spanish Fork girls basketball team appeared to have found the perfect recipe to stop undefeated Salem Hills on Friday night in Salem: Play confidently on offense, then slow Skyhawk senior superstar Lauren Gustin and keep everyone else in check on defense.
Midway through the third quarter, the Dons had an upset cooking as they had built a 37-23 lead against the top-ranked team in Utah Valley.
But Salem Hills senior guard Dixie Lainhart was about to turn up the heat.
The Skyhawks had struggled to take advantage of Spanish Fork packing the defense in the paint until Lainhart finally got locked in. She drilled five 3-pointers and scored 19 points in the final 13 minutes of the game to erase the deficit and eventually secure the 55-52 win.
“Dixie was incredible in the second half,” Salem Hills head coach Kyle Francom said. “She was clutch.”
Salem Hills was so cold for the first two-and-a-half quarters that the only points scored were by Gustin (who had 18 to not let the Dons get too far in front).
“That was definitely frustrating,” Lainhart said. “We owe Lauren for keeping us in it with her good play.”
Lainhart finally broke through at the 4:52 mark when she drained a trey from the corner.
“Right when it went in, I just yelled out, ‘Finally!’ ” Lainhart said. “It was just nice to finally make one.”
That shot helped the Skyhawks get the offense going and a few minutes later Salem Hills put together a 22-5 run to go from being down to taking the lead.
But the Dons had come too far and are too good to just fold. They kept battling and the teams exchanged leads as the seconds ticked away.
“I’m proud of the way we played,” Spanish Fork head coach Alyssa Anderson said. “We panicked a little in the second half, but a lot of girls stepped up. Taylor Stewart had the game of her life.”
Stewart made a layup to put the Dons up one with 42 seconds to go, then Salem Hills sophomore Hailee Oldroyd answered with a layup where she was fouled and made the free throw.
But Spanish Fork senior Gabby Beckstrom drained a 3-pointer with 20 seconds left to put the visitors back in front.
On the ensuing possession, Lainhart was fouled and stepped to the line with a chance to give her team the lead with just 11 seconds to play.
“I wasn’t really even nervous,” she said. “When I shoot free throws in practice, I imagine game-like situations and being put in that position. I also was in a tournament where we were down by two and I had three free throws and I missed, so I’ve worked hard so that wouldn’t happen again.”
Lainhart calmly drained both foul shots to give the home team an advantage it wouldn’t relinquish.
Spanish Fork got a good look in the lane from senior Rylie Tobiasson with three seconds left but it bounced off the rim and Salem Hills got the rebound.
After a pair of Gustin foul shots, the Dons had a chance to force overtime with a halfcourt shot but it was wide and the Skyhawks remained undefeated.
Gustin led the way with 30 points for Salem Hills while Lainhart added 19. Stewart had 17 to lead the way for Spanish Fork.
Salem Hills (10-0, 1-0) now gets set for a titanic road test as it plays at Mountain View on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m., while Spanish Fork (5-4, 0-1) hosts Lehi at 7 p.m. on the same evening.