The last time Pleasant Grove and American Fork met in boys basketball, a state championship was at stake.
Both teams returned just one starter this season, so the Vikings and Cavemen have been flying a little bit under the radar. Pleasant Grove, which won the Region 4 title and was ranked No. 1 most of the season, took down last year’s 6A champion 68-59 on Tuesday at Valhalla to open region play.
“I don’t like the word potential, but we’ve got players,” Pleasant Grove coach Randy McAllister said. “We’ve got guys with talent. We just haven’t come close to putting it together yet.”
Kael Mikkelsen — PG’s only returning starter — scored just four points on Tuesday but had plenty of help from his teammates. Isaac Vaha pounded his way inside for 19 points on a variety of power moves.
“Vaha was consistent,” McAllister said. “Whenever we needed a score we went to him and he got us a bucket. I’m proud of him because there have been games where we wanted to do that but it hasn’t been there. Tonight was a big night for him and for our guys getting him the ball.”
Pleasant Grove eased to a 17-13 first quarter lead and extended that advantage to nine points, 35-26, at the end of the half with a 3-pointer from Jordan Egbert and a nice driving basket by Preston Bushman.
The Vikings took a 13-point lead, 45-32, with back-to-back buckets from Mikkelsen and Vaha midway through the third quarter. Dylan Jones tossed in a 3-pointer as the clock expired for a 53-41 Pleasant Grove lead entering the fourth.
“We played well on defense tonight,” Mikkelsen said. “We had lot of steals, but on offense we created for each other instead of going 1-on-1 ball. We had three or four passes and then a shot. And Vaha, he beasted tonight. He went off and it was awesome.”
The closest American Fork could get in the fourth was eight points several times, but the Vikings made enough good plays to hold on for the win.
“This year we’ve shown signs of brilliance and signs of absolute disaster almost every game,” McAllister said. “That’s why we’ve lost three overtime games. In crunch time we haven’t had the ability to have enough guys on the court that are poised and have that experience. But I was proud of how we finished tonight.”
Bushman and freshman point guard Jordan Ross added 11 points each for Pleasant Grove (1-0 Region 4, 8-6 overall).
“Jordan has come a long way,” McAllister said. “He started the year thinking his eighth grade tricks would work in varsity but he’s figured out he has to play a different style. He plays his role perfectly for us by running the offense, keeping us organized and taking the opportunities when they come. Defensively, he’s gotten a lot tougher. He really didn’t understand the physicality of it early, but he’s learned how to get tougher. He’s going to be a great player.”
Tobey Schmitt led American Fork (0-1, 8-6) with 14 points, followed by the Cavemen’s only returning starter, Noah Moeaki, and Ike Rutter with 12 points each.
Pleasant Grove travels to Corner Canyon on Friday and American Fork is at Lone Peak.