By Bill Bateman
There was a slight but noticeable wind blowing in Morgan County Saturday evening, and there’s a good chance it was the collective sigh of relief coming from Morgan girls basketball coach Brad Matthews and his staff.
Having lost on their home court last year to No. 4-seeded Juab out of Region 12, the pressure was firmly on the second-ranked Trojans (19-3, 10-0) to beat North Sanpete, the unranked No. 5 seed from Region 12, to avoid another dreaded Class 3A first-round upset.
Morgan stormed out to a big 18-2 first-quarter lead, allowing the Hawks only one shot and two made free throws in the quarter, then continued the onslaught in the second and third quarters to win going away 72-21.
Matthews and his team were all smiles after the game, finally getting the sting of last year’s loss wiped from their memory.
“That was a good win”, Matthews said. “When we play with that kind of intensity on defense, that intensity transfers to our offense , (and) we are a tough team to beat. Last year’s defeat in the first round was really hard on the girls, knowing they had a legit chance to win it all. That really hurt.”
Senior point guard Becca Rees was hot from the beginning, hitting her first long 3-pointer to start the game, an didn’t slow down until she took a seat on the bench at the start of the fourth quarter.
Rees had her best shooting night of the season, going 9-of-13 from the field, including 3-for-3 form the 3-point line en route to 21 points. Ashley “Spud” Garfield scored a game-high 25 points on an efficient 7-of-9 shooting from the field, added 8 steals and 5 assist and a blocked shot.
Senior Shaelee Pentz scored 6 points on 2 of 4 from behind the arc and passed off for 4 assists.
Junior Kelsey Henry contributed 6 points, and senior Rachael Johnson scored 2 points, with 5 boards, 4 assists, 4 steals and 1 blocked shot.
Garfield and Rees and company were just too much for North Sanpete to overcome.
Matthews was quick to credit Rees, who is somehow playing with a torn ACL in her left knee and wears a bulky brace, for her steady play this season.
“Having a point guard like her--she shoots over 60 percent from three, she gets us in our offense, (and) finishes on fast breaks, we are so lucky to have her back, so lucky,” he said. ‘This team would be a lot different without her.”
North Sanpete found it difficult to counter Morgan’s defensive pressure, and was lead in scoring by freshmen Taylor Gordon and Keisha Jorgensen with seven and five points, respectively.
“The keys to our success tonight was our defense, the crowd and the cheering from our bench, pushing us on, and that helped us win,” Johnson said.
The Trojans will now face third-ranked Emery Thursday at 4:15 p.m. at the Huntsman Center located on the campus of the University of Utah.
“We know how each other plays, who we want to handle the ball and who we want to handle the ball and who should take the shot,” Johnson said. “If we’re not open, we will give it up to the player who has the best shot. We are excited to get to the U of U, and we are taking it one step at a time.”
Morgan senior starting center Chelsey Stegelmeier knows her team is inching closer to the coveted state championship.
“We are really excited, but we have our heads on straight,” she said. “No way we are overlooking anybody. No way.”
Editors Note: See playoff Schedule on next page.