The #1 RPI home team designated Valley Buffalo gals hosted the March 4 game with the #8 seed Bryce Valley Mustangs at Snow College’s Richfield campus. Entering the fourth quarter down 31-28, the Buffalos stampeded the Mustangs 18-8 in that frame for the win, 46-39, to start their drive for the trophy.

Brittyn Heaton and Janni Hoyt led all scorers with 12 each. Paige Harris added 11, Whitnee Spencer four, Ruth Cox a trey and Esther Cox two free throws.

“We just gotta take one game at a time,” began coach Dustin Cox, dad to his two players, eighth-grade team manager Rachel, and husband to his esteemed wife, co-coach Harmony. “We knew tonight was gonna be just as it was. We planned for tonight; but Bryce Valley is tough, and they played tough! And they played patient; and they played physical; and we knew that. And we were ready; and we came prepared and were able to hold out, and got the win. And, you know, that’s awesome!

“Tomorrow, we’ve got another team that we know. Sometimes that’s good, and sometimes that’s not good, right? We know them, and we know it’s gonna be tough. Every game that we play from here on out is gonna be tough! And we just play our game.  

“Today, the girls stepped-up. Like tonight, Esther had two points, Brittyn had 12. That’s amazing!  That’s the benefit of a team.  That’s the epitome of a team, right there. Esther’s job was to feed the post. I put the ball in Esther’s hand because she wouldn’t turn it over, and she’d feed the post good. And then Paige went to work; and she didn’t turn it over; and they scored.  And that’s amazing. And that’s all we did.”

Friday’s match-up was against #5 Milford, the Cinderella victors of the recent Region 20 Tournament in Panguitch. Heading into the fourth, Valley narrowly led 39-35; but behind a 23-6 rampage, the Buffalos hoofed the Tigers, 62-41. 

Following that “W,” assured of their destined appointment the next day, coach Dustin pondered the main event. “Right, one game at a time, you know. The girls came out to play. We can’t feel bad about our performance one bit. They did good. And we’ve got one more. We’ve either got (#3) Wayne or (#2) Piute; that’s what it’ll come down to. They’re out there (on-court as he spoke) battling and fighting. We’ve won them both, but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, right now, where we’re standing. All that matters is tomorrow; after the 4:30 game, is who’s on top! How we’re gonna come prepared to do our best. That’s all that matters!”

Turned out to be the Piute Thunderbirds, after beating the Wayne Badgers 53-51. In league play, Valley sported a plus-16 points differential, winning two of their three meetings with Piute.

But first, according to its tradition of pageantry, comes the National Anthem, intoned by Valley’s own, co-manager Hazel Harris, in the presence of the highest remaining seed’s hometown cheerleading squad’s joint color guard arrival led by Hannah Lee harnessing Old Glory after the spectacular entrance of the parading combatants amidst swirls of smoke, spotlights and flashing wheels of colored gels. Next, the introductions of individual entourages of team members, excluding the starters prior to their special announcements prior to tip-off. So then at last, with normal luminance restored, the contest commences.

Opening with an impressive 7-0 Valley run, the subsequent 13 tallies were notched by Piute leading into the second quarter before the Buffalos netted again, going in at halftime down 19-11.  The eight point third was hampered by a friendly-fire descending jumpshot elbow to the head of Janni Hoyt, causing her to remain on the floor, briefly stopping action before she was escorted to the bench by coach Cox.

Grimacing there for a while, the quarter ended 31-19, Piute.  Even upon her return, Valley’s courageously fast-paced fourth quarter, 21-13, coming-on-strong efforts were too-little-too-late. Dashing hopes at 44-40.

Paige Harris led scoring with 11, Whitnee Spencer and Janni each had 10, Esther Cox with seven, while both Brittyn Heaton (nursing an injured ankle) and Ruth Cox each made solitary free throws.

Coach Cox’s gracious afterthoughts: “Yeah, it’s just you get close. Four points! It seems like a hundred miles sometimes, you know. But I think the girls just put it all right there. Kudos to Piute: their energy, and I think they had a fantastic shooting game. I don’t know their percentage, but they shot … I bet they were close to 100 percent from the three-point line. Their foul shots were good, so you can’t take anything away from them. But, enough about them.

“Our girls are fantastic individuals, you know! Worth doesn’t change; but second really stinks, getting this close. They’re amazing!  The years, the memories, and the try tonight, never quitting. It’s fantastic. I couldn’t be more proud of them, where we ended. Proud of them. And I love them; love them all! We’ll regroup and go to the next one.”

All three seniors: Esther Cox, Paige Harris and Whitnee Spencer are recipients of All-Region and All-State Academic honors.