CLEARFIELD — When Joel Burton brought his team into the gym at Clearfield High School, the school his own kids actually go to, he was fortunate to have some familiarity with what to expect from the Falcons’ home crowd.
A regular-season girls basketball game isn’t usually replete with a pep band and themed student section six rows deep, but in a battle between two teams undefeated in Region 5, Bountiful girls basketball found itself in the closest thing they could probably expect to a playoff atmosphere. Star talent and big-game experience eventually persevered in a thrilling game as the title-defending Redhawks escaped with a 56-47 win on the road over the Clearfield Falcons on Wednesday to establish itself as the frontrunner in the region race.
Bountiful improved its record to 11-3 and handed Clearfield just its second loss of the season as the Falcons now stand at 11-2.
Combined between the two teams, just two seniors (both for Clearfield) saw the floor for the two incredibly young yet promising squads, indicating that this could be a top matchup in the region for the foreseeable future.
Led by junior forward Taylor Harvey, who recently announced a volleyball commitment to the University of Texas, Bountiful’s talent ultimately overcame Clearfield’s extremely tenacious play style. Harvey led all scorers with 21 points, while sophomores Milika Satuala and Adelaide Stevenson had 12 and 11 points respectively.
Freshman Ciara De La O led the Falcons with 12 points, 10 of which came in a personal scoring run between the second and third quarters. Sophomore Izzy Wyaskett had 10 points.
For 32 minutes, the Falcons, who have been one of the biggest surprises in the state this season, threw everything at the Redhawks, who appeared visibly frustrated at multiple points of the game.
“This is what we expected to be honest,” Bountiful coach Joel Burton said. “We’ve watched enough film to know what (the Falcons) do. They’re playing confident, aggressive basketball. It was what we expected. I expected we’d handle it a little better than we did; that was the frustrating part. We had the players to handle it better than we did.”
It really didn’t appear the Clearfield’s hopes would amount to much for most of the first half. Bountiful started the game on a 13-2 run, beginning with back-to-back 3-pointers from Maleah Nelson, and led, 16-4, by the end of the first quarter.
The Redhawks outscored the Falcons, 10-3, in the first few minutes of the second quarter and pushed their commanding lead to 26-7. By all accounts, the rout had begun.
Except for the part where no one told Clearfield to give it up.
Down by 19, the Falcons rallied to end the half on an 11-0 run, capped by two layups from De La O.
The Falcon went into the locker room with the momentum and came right back out with it as De La O drilled a 3-pointer on the opening play. A layup from Wyaskett turned a near-blowout into a one-possession game, 28-26.
With Bountiful’s back against the wall, who else but Harvey to come up with a bucket? Harvey answered the scoring run with a 3-pointer, her only one of the game, to push her team back out, and the Redhawks commenced a 14-2 scoring run to retake control.
“I’m honestly glad we got pushed like that,” Burton said. “We needed it.”
In a downhill fourth quarter for both teams, Bountiful traded enough baskets with Clearfield to stay ahead for good.
For a team with zero seniors on its roster, the Redhawks’ defense of its 2022-23 5A state championship remains in good order. Bountiful remains the No. 1 team in 5A per RPI rankings, boosted by the sixth-highest opponent winning percentage (OWP) in the classification. Clearfield boosted that even higher.
“We got some things we want to get better at as far as handling pressure after today,” Burton said. “Region 5, I honestly feel like everywhere you go, you’re going to get a fight out of one of those teams, so I just fully expect it.”
The Redhawks will host Roy on Friday for their next game, while Clearfield will travel to Box Elder.