What does it take to take down an undefeated juggernaut?
The Springville girls basketball team faced just that question as it took the floor against unbeaten Lehi in the 5A semifinals at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City Friday afternoon.
“We said that no one believes — but we do,” Red Devil head coach Holli Averett said. “We were focusing on two things. One was rebounding. We wanted them to be one-and-done, not give them second shots. The other was transition defense. Our players did that. They played their guts out. We played our game.”
Springville refused to be intimidated by the Pioneer reputation, instead forcing Lehi to play its style of basketball.
“We knew that we had to take them one-on one because they all could shoot,” Red Devil senior guard Ahna Hullinger said. “I think we knew they weren’t scoring like they normally do. We were just counting on our defense and I think we all knew that we could keep them at the pace they were at. If we could keep scoring, we’d have them.”
Springville was in its element in the hard-fought, physical, back-and-forth battle and thus when the game was on the line, the Red Devils were up to the challenge.
It was Springville that made the big plays down the stretch, getting big defensive stops and key free throws to secure the stunning 48-44 win, handing Lehi its first loss of the season and sending the Red Devils to the title game for the first time since 2016.
“It feels really good,” Hullinger said. “We have a lot of grit. We just don’t like to lose.”
The keys for Springville were defense and balance as the Red Devils slowed the potent Pioneer offense and got huge plays from everyone who stepped on the floor.
“We had girls who haven’t played in the last three games but came in and hit a good basket,” Averett said. “They all know their role. No one is selfish and no one has egos. They are in it for the win, no matter what it takes. It doesn’t matter who is scoring or who has to get the rebounds. They are a great team.”
The semifinal contest proved to be a defensive slugfest with neither team allowing many open looks. The made points at a premium and neither the Pioneers nor the Red Devils were able to build a lead of more than four points.
Lehi ended up heading into the break with the narrowest of leads (20-19) but couldn’t ever really get on track against the physical Springville defenders.
“We knew Springville was really tough,” Pioneer head coach Aubrey Van Pelt said. “We knew going in this would probably be our toughest game of the year. We played tough but they forced us to execute perfectly.”
The Red Devil team defense concept held Lehi to 37.5% shooting (18-of-48) but even more impressive was how Springville got contributions from everyone offensively.
Every Red Devil player who played scored at least two points and Springville had five players with between seven and 11 points.
“It’s really nice to have players and being able to count on your teammates,” Hullinger said. “It’s a big part of the game.”
The Red Devils were able to find some openings in the paint late in the game as Springville junior Addisyn Johnson made a layup to give her team a 42-40 lead with time winding down.
A Lehi miss forced the Pioneers to foul and Red Devil freshman Brook Pennington calmly made both foul shots to put Springville up by four points.
Lehi then got a jumper from junior guard Macie Warren to narrow the gap and forced a turnover, but then ended up having the ball bounce away and back to Springville.
The Red Devils then got a foul shot by junior guard Kayla Jackson and a defensive stop. Hullinger then made a free throw to make it a four-point lead.
The Pioneers got another layup from Warren with under five seconds left in the game but Hullinger drained two final free throws to secure the win.
“It felt good to make those,” Hullinger said. “It was stressful but it felt good in the end.”
Jackson ended up leading the way for Springville with 11 points, while Lehi was led by 18 points from junior guard Maddie Warren while Macie Warren scored 13 points.
Van Pelt said her message to her team after the loss was that they can get better.
“We talked about last year and how we didn’t know how it would be this year,” Van Pelt said. “I told them to look at how much we improved since last year. Now we have two ways to look at it: We can get better or we can settle. If we improved this much this year, look at how much we can improve next year.”
Springville now turns its attention toward going after another state title.
“I’m freaking excited,” Averett said. “They earned it. They came and worked hard the whole year. This group of girls has been amazing.”
The Red Devils will face Highland in the 5A state championship game at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City Saturday at 11 a.m.