SALT LAKE CITY — In terms of geography, five miles is all that separates Lone Peak from Pleasant Grove.
Because of that close proximity, and by extension the unique overlap between friends and family, the stakes are always high when these two Utah County schools meet. And yet circumstances dictated that the stakes be raised on Saturday when the natural rivalry converged for the inaugural Class 6A state title.
In what was a re-staging of the 2014 title game, Lone Peak, which was appearing in its second straight state title game, pulled away late from Pleasant Grove, defeating the Vikings 61-44 to earn a three-game sweep over them this season.
“It’s surreal, these boys have worked so hard since the day the season ended last year to try and get here again,” Lone Peak head coach David Evans said as he looked over his team cutting down the nets at the Huntsman Center. “We were pretty lucky to come out with that one.”
For the Knights (23-3), who have now won 16 straight games, Saturday’s victory redeems them of last year’s 49-42 loss to Bingham, a game in which they had their fourth-quarter lead overturned.
Given that history, observers could feel the tension in the building when the Vikings (21-6) made a brief run late to cut the deficit to six midway through the fourth quarter. But after a big rebound by Jaxon Pollard (13 points, six rebounds), Lone Peak was able to break open its lead — which extended into high double-digits for the final minutes — by converting layup after layup and 14 of its 17 free-throw attempts.
“That (sequence) made me feel more comfortable,” Evans said of a game that featured 12 lead changes.
Four Knights finished in double figures, including Max Brenchley and Jackson Brinkerhoff, who contributed twin 12-point outputs. Brenchley also led all rebounders with 13. Steven Ashworth tied a game-high in scoring with Pleasant Grove’s Casey Brown, the pair pouring in 15 each and showing as the best players on the court throughout.
“Steven’s been good all year,” Evans said. “He just gets it done when it needs to get done.”
After a poor shooting first half (5-26, 19.2 percent) in which it mustered just 18 points, Lone Peak’s outside shot progressed to the mean in the third quarter (7-12, 58.3 percent) as the Knights outscored the Vikings 18-6. For the Knights, the second half is when the script flipped, as they began playing airtight defense that left the Vikings searching for effective offense.
While Pleasant Grove stayed afloat with stifling defense early, it was summarily out of sorts on the offensive side all day, as best underscored by 7-foot-3 center Matt Van Komen (eight points, 11 rebounds). For the entire game, Van Komen showed a lack of variety in his repertoire, as his patented hook shot failed to convert in the same way it did Friday night against Copper Hills. At times, some awkward footwork was highlighted as he searched for his offense.
“I tried to cover as much ground as possible because if he gets anywhere near the hoop, he’ll put it in,” Brinkerhoff said of his defense on Van Komen. “You just have to take up space and push him out a little bit. He’s strong and he’s physical, and he’s going to have a big senior season next year.”
With the season now concluded and having defeated their regional rival for the third time this season, a tightly wound Evans was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief following the game.
“You don’t like to see anyone more than twice,” Evans said with a smile.
Dillon Anderson is studying literary journalism as a student at the University of Utah. You can follow him on Twitter @DillonDanderson.