Desert Hills drops Dixie, controls its playoff destiny heading into finale

Desert Hills' Madison Clark, who scored a game-high 15 points, takes the ball to the rim against Dixie's Salamasina Tapasa in the Thunder's 46-34 win over the Flyers, Feb. 13, 2018, St. George, Utah | Photo by Michael Rinker, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Desert Hills Lady Thunder may not have the whole world in their hands, but they definitely have the state playoff within their grasp.

Desert Hills’ Kami Bliss gets good position behind the defense, hauls in a perfectly placed lob pass, scores the bucket and adds a free throw against Dixie, Feb. 13, 2018, St. George, Utah | Photo by Michael Rinker, St. George News

After comfortably dispatching Dixie, 46-34, on Tuesday night, the Thunder (6-5) have the inside track on the fourth and final playoff berth from Region 9. All they have to do is beat last-place Canyon View at home Thursday.

But Desert Hills coach Ron Denos isn’t breathing easy. After all, he’s a coach.

“In Region 9 you don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “They’re not going to give us that game, we have to take it.”

On Dixie’s home court Tuesday, Desert Hills took care of business, threatening at times to run away with the game, which ended up being closer than it seemed like it was through much of the night.

Jessica Bills and Madison Clark combined for 27 points to lead the Thunder, which stumbled out of the gate.

Play was a bit rough off the opening tip and Desert Hills seemed confused in the face of Dixie’s defense. After the Thunder’s Katelyn Philips was called for a foul just 20 seconds in and the Flyers’ Salamasina Schwalger immediately followed with a 3-pointer from the corner, Denos had seen enough.

“I had to call that time out early, but after that they played a pretty good game,” he said. “We pushed the ball up the floor and got some easy baskets.”

Dixie’s Breezie Fakatoumafi pulls up for a jump shot after running her defender off a screen against Desert Hills, Feb. 13, 2018, St. George, Utah | Photo by Michael Rinker, St. George News

The first play after the time out, however, was more of the same as the Thunder again appeared disjointed and turned the ball over.

But on their next possession, Philips fed Clark for a 10-foot jumper and Desert Hills was on the board. The Thunder took the lead after Clark hit a free throw to tie it 3-3, then grabbed a steal that set up a 7-foot floater by Philips. Desert Hills would never relinquish the lead.

The Thunder led 17-9 at the end of the first quarter thanks to Clark’s 5 points and Annie Frame’s 4.

Clark, who was the game’s high scorer with 15,  also made her presence felt on the defensive end.

“Maddie has been solid for us all year, probably our most consistent player,” Denos said. “We’ve been trying to get her to look to score a little more.”

He also lauded Bills for a “great game” against Dixie’s inside talent, Salamasina Tapasa. In addition to scoring 12 points, Bills hit the boards hard.

The Thunder’s Annie Frame rises up for a baby hook inside against Dixie, Feb. 13, 2018, St. George, Utah | Photo by Michael Rinker, St. George News

Neither team did much on offense in the second quarter as Clark and Abby Monson hit the Thunder’s only field goals and Bills added a pair of free throws. The Flyers got 3-point buckets from Schwalger and Joslyn Bundy, who also hit a 2-pointer. The pair led Dixie in scoring with 12 points each, while Tapasa had 8.

Desert Hills at one point led 21-9, but the Flyers finished the quarter on an 8-2 run.

The Thunder tried to break free from the resilient Flyers, extending their lead to 10 points about halfway through the third quarter. But Dixie reeled them back in and trailed 34-27 going into the fourth.

The Flyers were able to narrow the lead to five points a couple of times, including 36-31 with more than five minutes left. But Frame hit a 10-foot jumper in the lane, Clark drove to the rim and Bills scored inside after rebounding a teammate’s missed free throw.

Dixie’s Bundy answered with a 3-pointer, but those were the last points the Flyers would score.

In other Region 9 action Tuesday, Cedar clinched first place with a win over second-place Hurricane, while Pine View punched its ticket to the playoff with a win over Canyon View.

In addition to Desert Hills hosting last-place Canyon View on Thursday – the final night of the regular season – Dixie travels to Cedar and Hurricane plays at Snow Canyon, which would be on the outside looking in if the Thunder beat the Falcons.

The top four teams in the region qualify for the 4A state championship tournament, with the top two earning home games in the first round against Region 12’s third- and fourth-place teams. Likewise, Region 9’s third- and fourth-place teams travel to Region 12, which is in the Logan area, to play its top two teams. First-round games will be played Feb. 23. The remainder of the tournament will be played March 1-3 at Utah Valley University.

Region 9 standings
Cedar  9-2, 16-4
Hurricane  7-4, 12-9
Pine View  7-5, 12-6
Desert Hills  6-5, 6-13
Snow Canyon 5-6, 9-12
Dixie 3-8, 9-14
Canyon View  2-9, 5-16

Email: mrinker@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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