OREM — A late rally in the fourth quarter allowed Salem Hills to pull away from Juan Diego in a 64-55 victory Saturday in the Class 4A boys basketball state championship.
Salem Hills was led by senior James Nelson, who scored 27 points in his last game as a Skyhawk. Nelson was unstoppable in the matchup; he could drive in or pull back for a three as Juan Diego had no answer in a second quarter where Nelson scored 17.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Skyhawks were down by three but Tyler Bishop came up clutch with some big plays to rally his team from behind. Bishop scored nine of his 13 points in the last six minutes of the game.
"I love the fourth quarter, I know that in the fourth quarter every possession counts. You have make the most out of it," Bishop said. "I have put in the work and have confidence in myself and my teammates and was able to just go out there and do what I do."
The combination of Nelson's dominance and Bishop's late run led to the Skyhawks pulling away with a nine-point victory.
"James has been incredible, he’s led us all year long and Tyson Bishop sure came up big in the fourth quarter and made some great shots for us," Salem Hills coach Jimmy Degraffenreid said. "I'm very proud of all the guys."
For all 32 minutes, the game was a fight and for three-fourths of it, Salem Hills was fighting to keep it close.
“Every day before a game we write fight on a whiteboard and that's how we live that's how we play,” said senior Cole Griffin, who finished with nine points.
Added Nelson: "We’re a fighting team we have lived up to that in every way we just knew that if we were in the game and we fight we are going to win every game."
The Syhawks outrebounded the Soaring Eagle 34-23 in this contest, which was surprising with Juan Diego's height and 6-foot, 9-inch center Chinonso Opara, who has signed with BYU football. But Opara only played 13 minutes of the game as Salem Hills kept the Soaring Eagle off the glass.
As for Juan Diego they were led by Jason Ricketts, Matt Kitzman, and Lawson Roe. Rickketts finished the night with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Kitzman scored 15, and Roe 12.
For the Salem Hills community this win was special because the Salem Hills girls basketball team won the 4A state championship just the hour before.
The energy from Salem Hills fans in the arena was electric.
“You’ve seen a lot of excitement from the fans because the boys and girls both just won it. I don't know how often that happens and that's incredible two great teams and it’s a lot of fun," Degraffenreid said.
Lexi Lewis is studying public relations at Utah Valley University. You can follow her on twitter @lex_lew1018.