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FORT DUCHESNE, Uintah County — Shandon Sorensen had never even tried the shot in practice.
"I look at the clock and I see four seconds left," Sorensen said Wednesday. "I just threw it up and I hoped it went in."
The shot from two steps inside the halfcourt line dropped in, sending Sorensen and his Uintah River High School basketball team to the semifinals of the Utah School Sports Association playoffs with a 65-62 win over DaVinci Academy.
The Uintah River Warriors — playing with only six players — would finish the tournament with an undefeated record, beating Wasatch Academy 74-57 on Saturday to win their school's first state championship in any sport.
"There are moments when they surprised me, but I knew they could do a lot of what we set out to do," Warriors head coach David Sorensen said Wednesday after his team was honored by more than 150 people at Ute tribal headquarters.
As a first-year coach at Uintah River, Sorensen faced a number of challenges. He started the season with only seven players. One quit and two others had to leave the team due to academic issues.
The addition of two players midseason kept the team's dream of competing in this year's charter school playoffs alive. Juliano Serawop, Marion Slim and Talon Tohtsoni joined Shandon Sorensen at guard, while Tiger Taveapont played forward and Tre Teton played center.
"In the back of our minds we told ourselves, 'We've got six that can run,'" Coach Sorensen said. "That was our style. That's what we prepared for, to be able to put ourselves on the court and run against any team, no matter what."
Sorensen also stressed mental toughness with his team, and the ability to overcome obstacles that seem insurmountable. He said he knows life for some of the 60 kids who attend Uintah River High is pretty tough. The Ute Indian reservation seems to have more than its share of poverty, crime and addiction, which can make failure seem inevitable.
"That's already one strike against you," Sorensen said. "So let's get out there and prove that that's not the case. Let's go out there and prove that you are able to be successful."
For Sorensen's team, success in the gym meant playing for each other and working together for the win. It's a lesson that goes beyond the court, he said.
"That's something that we've instilled in the boys — for them to know that they are going to be community leaders," the coach said. "They are ambassadors for the youth here."