The outcome of many state championship basketball games has often been decided before the clock gets to the final second.
When that isn’t the case, every heartbeat feels like an eternity — especially when walking up to the free-throw line.
Just ask Lehi senior guard Noa Gonsalves.
He stepped up for two potentially game-clinching foul shots as the Pioneers clung to a 59-57 lead over Farmington in the 5A title game at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville.
If Gonsalves missed one or both, the Phoenix still had a chance to pull off a miracle.
“I had to hit those, man,” Gonsalves said. “Those were the last free throws of my high school career. I just had to hit them.”
Pioneer head coach Quincy Lewis said Gonsalves makes more than 80% from the charity stripe but he had a couple of tough moments earlier in the year when the game was on the line.
“We were up on Alta with nine seconds left and Noa has two shots,” Lewis said. “He has to make two against Mountain Ridge to send it to overtime. He misses. We’ve lost some crazy ones this year.”
Past failures can add pressure but Gonsalves showed he had learned from those experiences. He stepped and calmly drained both shots, securing the 61-57 victory over Farmington and the state title.
“It was awesome,” Gonsalves said. “I know it wasn’t the best game but what matters is that we won, that we pulled it out.”
Lewis pointed to that as a microcosm of the team’s journey during the 2020-21 season.
“This tells you how far we’ve come in figuring out how to win,” Lewis said. “You’ve got to put the knife in the heart and he did it. And on the biggest stage.”
The drama of the final moments was a fitting conclusion to an exciting battle between the Pioneers and the Phoenix.
Lehi had the early lead, going up 26-16 in the second quarter. But Farmington rallied behind a downpour of 3-pointers, splashing four during a 15-3 run that gave the Phoenix a 43-39 lead early in the fourth period.
“When they were going on their runs, we told each other that he just had to keep our cool,” Pioneer senior guard Tyson Hawkins said. “We’ve been through that all season. Every region game was close. We just kept our cool and stayed with it.”
The Pioneers got a couple of big buckets from Gonsalves to regain the initiative heading down the stretch.
“We had a timeout right in there somewhere and Noa just got this look in his eye, one that said, ‘I am not going to allow this to happen,’” Lewis said. “He went and scored a tough one right at the rim. We talked at halftime that he was going to get bumped and that he had to finish it. He was much better than second half.”
Gonsalves ended up with 19 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, while Pioneer senior forward Peter Amakasu led Lehi with 21 points on 6-of-11 shooting.
He also took on the challenge of guarding Farmington star guard Collin Chandler for much of the game. It was a tall task for a player in his first year of high school basketball but he. Chandler led all scorers with 23 points but was only 6-of-17 from the floor.
“I think we held him to five points in the first half but in the third quarter, he helped them go on their little run,” Amakasu said. “We said to just guard that 3-point line, don’t let them shoot. I think that’s what kind of made him have not the best game.”
The Pioneers had just enough offense and defense to emerge victorious and get to celebrate as state champs.
“Oh my gosh, it’s amazing,” Hawkins said. “Throughout the whole season we went through so much adversity. We were 6-5 in region but the whole season we knew we’d be here, just with the way we practice and all the hard work. And thanks to Coach Lewis, who helped us out a lot this season. This is just awesome.”
Lewis, who won a number of titles as the head coach at Lone Peak, said this one is different because of what has been going in the in the world.
“This one is different from all the rest,” Lewis said. “It’s special because of the year that we’re in and what these kids have gone through. You see these crowds out here, these kids who are so excited to come to a ballgame. These kids have had to compete without any friends or sometimes even family being able to come to games. They’re just sitting there practicing without any of that, and that makes this even more special.”
Amakasu summed it up by saying, “This is what we came here for. It feels amazing.”