For much of the second half of Wednesday’s 6A quarterfinal game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City, the Skyridge girls basketball team struggled to stop Syracuse when the Titans got the ball inside.
With the Falcons playing defense leading by a single point with eight seconds left, Skyridge junior guard Ally Blackham said she knew the danger of letting Syracuse attack the paint.
“If they score, it was over,” Blackham said. “They were trying to get the last shot. We had to be really smart because we are definitely out-sized. When it does get into the post, we have to be very smart.”
With time ticking away, the Titans attempted to drop an entry pass in to forward Rachel Godfrey who led Syracuse with 18 points. She likely didn’t even know Blackham was coming up from behind.
“I was in the right spot at the right time,” Blackham said. “I just nicked it out of her hands, then went and got it. I just kind of read it.”
Blackham outran the Syracuse players for a breakaway layup as time expired, sealing the dramatic 46-43 Falcon victory and sparking an ecstatic celebration from the Skyridge players.
“It’s really hard to describe what that moment was like because these are my best friends,” Blackham said. “The only way I can put it is that it is like pure happiness. Everything else is gone. It’s just happiness.”
“You are with your best friends, doing what you love, celebrating with all this amazing energy with coaches, managers, the student section, our parents, everyone is there cheering for you. It was this amazing environment with a lot of love and happiness.”
Falcon head coach Gabriel Roberts said it was fitting that Blackham got the final steal.
“It came down to one play,” Roberts said. “We said, ‘let’s make a play’ and Ally Blackham made the play of the game. She is one of our leaders on defense. We knew we had to be ready and that we couldn’t let them get the ball inside. Ally is a gambler and when you gamble correctly, it works out well.”
Nearly forgotten in the elation of the final play was that the Skyridge junior had have to leave the floor earlier in the fourth quarter after she got hurt.
“It was kind of a mental thing,” Blackham said. “I get hit in the back of the head and it kind of caught me off-guard. You get hit, you go out, you take a couple of seconds and then you realize it’s now or never. If it is hurting so bad I can’t walk then I can’t go back in, but adrenaline helps so much. It hurt but you kind of have to suck it up unless you want to sit on the bench and watch.”
Instead she was able to be on the floor at the end to make the big play and finish off the Falcon victory. It wasn’t easy or always pretty but at the end of the day Skyridge was able to survive.
“It was a battle,” Roberts said. “We were very resilient. Sometimes you get rolling and you get a lead in the first half, but then can you match it coming out after halftime. I’ve seen a lot of games where the other team is desperate and the tide shifts. But we held on just enough.”
The Falcon defense was dominant in the first half as Skyridge built a 25-12 halftime lead, but Syracuse made some adjustments and erased the deficit midway through the fourth quarter before the Falcons stemmed the tide.
“We realized that it was now or never,” Blackham said. “It’s the state tournament, so if you lose you go home. None of us want to go home. We have four seniors playing and this is their last chance. You don’t have a redo. We realized we had to play with everything we had.”
A driving shot by Blackham put Skyridge up by a point, setting up the final sequence.
Blackham finished with a game-high 19 points with five rebounds and five steals. Senior forward Nala Fainga added eight points, five rebounds and three steals.
Syracuse got the big game from Godfrey as well as 10 points from guard Whitney Sorensen.
The victory sends the Falcons to the 6A semifinals, which is a solid accomplishment for any squad.
“I think it is so big for us as a team, especially for the seniors,” Blackham said. “We have worked so hard for the past four years. To get here means that our hard work is paying off. All of the 5 a.m. workouts we had, that final steal was from those 5 a.m.’s we had. We’ve worked together as a team to get here.”
Skyridge will face the Fremont/Herriman winner with a spot in the 6A title game on the line. That semifinal is scheduled to take place at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City at 3 p.m. Friday.