MERIDIAN — A meeting of well-acquainted rivals had a familiar vibe Thursday at the 4A state tournament. But this time, when the buzzer sounded, it was Hillcrest celebrating a hard-earned win.
Junior guard Garrett Phippen scored 13 points, fellow junior Cooper Kesler added 12 and the Knights held off a late Skyline run to survive and advance, 44-39, at Rocky Mountain High School.
“It felt great to get this win,” Phippen said. “We play together, we’re a selfless team, and that’s what got us the W tonight.”
Hillcrest (19-8) plays Middleton in a 7 p.m. semifinal Friday after avenging last week’s District 6 championship loss to Skyline. The teams split six meetings this season — and there won’t be a Game 7.
“They’re an all-too-familiar opponent, and it’s kind of silly we had to play each other in the first round,” Hillcrest coach Dave Austin said. “We know each other so well, it’s such a tight game every time. It really comes down to gutting it out, playing good defense and getting after it, and that’s what our kids did.”
Skyline (10-18) caught fire late in the season and had won three of the five matchups prior to Thursday. The Grizzlies once again succeeded in limiting Hillcrest’s offense and slowing the pace, but they couldn’t find enough offense to extend their Cinderella run.
“Our kids did a good job holding them in the 40s, but we’ve got to score a little more,” Skyline coach Clint Cornish said. “Sometimes, it comes down to makes and misses. We just kept waiting for the dam to break offensively, and it never really did.”
Hillcrest got off to a quick start and built a lead with the help of some late-quarter magic. Kobe Kesler sank two free throws with less than a second remaining in the second quarter, while Cooper Kesler buried a 3 just before the third quarter buzzer to give the Knights a 32-25 lead.
After a quiet first half, Hillcrest freshman big man Isaac Davis came alive, throwing down a third-quarter dunk and grabbing 11 rebounds. But just when he and the Knights looked poised to put it away, Skyline sprang to life with a 10-0 run that cut Hillcrest’s lead to 38-36 with under 4 minutes to play.
“In those situations, you have to mentally lock in on defense and just get a stop,” said Austin, whose team only allowed one made basket in the final 3 minutes to secure the win. “It changes the tide of momentum, and that’s what we did.”
Hillcrest shot 44% from the field and played good enough defense to survive a 7-for-18 night at the free throw line. Davis, Tre Kofe and Sam Kunz each chipped in five points for the Knights.
Senior guard Cade Marlow led Skyline with 12 points. Senior center Landon Mezlock grabbed 11 rebounds, but the Grizzlies couldn’t overcome 37% shooting, including a 2-for-16 night from beyond the 3-point line.
Skyline falls into the consolation bracket, where it plays Jerome at 2 p.m. Friday.