The injury bug has not been kind to the Tooele girls basketball team this season.
Junior guard Madi Baker has missed the entire season with a foot injury. Junior forward Emma Higley has supported her team from the sidelines on crutches in recent weeks. On Tuesday night in Eagle Mountain, the Buffaloes were also missing junior guard Aysha Lewis and sophomore forward Breanna Beer with injuries.
The short-handed Buffs gave Cedar Valley a scare in the first half, but the Aviators outscored Tooele 23-9 in the third and fourth quarters for a 43-26 win in a late-season Region 10 battle at Cedar Valley High School. Tooele (7-14, 4-7 Region 10) was forced to go deep into its bench, gaining valuable varsity playing time for a number of underclassmen — but taking its lumps as a result.
“Injuries and everything else have kind of taken a toll on us,” Tooele coach Randy Goss said. “A lot of teams, when you have player after player going down, morale goes down, but our girls have stepped up and the ones who haven’t gotten a lot of varsity time have gone in and done a good job for us.”
Tooele led 10-9 after the first quarter, and a mid-range jumper by sophomore Alivia Cluff stretched the Buffaloes’ lead to three points with 5:46 left in the first half. That’s when the momentum shifted, as the Aviators (6-15, 5-7) went on a 9-0 run over the next 3:53 to snag an 18-12 lead.
The most troubling part for Goss wasn’t the Buffs’ lack of scoring during Cedar Valley’s run. Rather, it was the way the Aviators got their points, driving past Tooele’s defense for easy buckets.
“Defensively, I thought we let down against them,” Goss said. “We never let players drive all the way to the basket. Our help-side defense, I thought, was atrocious, and I think that’s what caught up to us there.”
Tooele cut Cedar Valley’s lead to 18-17 in the final minute of the half, thanks to a pair of free throws by Jy’onie Camacho and a traditional three-point play by freshman Rylie Hogan. But the Aviators took the wind out of the Buffs’ sails as time expired, as Lelei Pili converted a layup to send Cedar Valley into the locker room with a 20-17 halftime lead.
Cluff, who led Tooele with 13 points in the loss, pulled the Buffs even early in the third quarter with a free throw and a field goal, only to have the Aviators launch a 12-0 run over the next seven minutes. Cedar Valley clamped down on Cluff, Tooele’s primary scoring threat, throwing double teams at her and forcing the Buffs to look elsewhere for offense.
Cluff took a beating at various points in the game, taking an extra few seconds to get up off the floor after several hard fouls. However, to her credit, she kept playing, earning praise from her coach afterward.
“She’s tough,” Goss said. “She battles. She doesn’t give up. There was one time when I was going to sub for her, and she said, ‘no, I’m going to stay in and shoot my foul shots.’ That’s a competitor right there. For a sophomore, she gets after it.”
After Cedar Valley’s run gave the Aviators a 32-20 lead with 7:46 left, the Buffs never got within single-digits again.
Hogan had nine points for Tooele, and Camacho and Sydney Gustin each scored two. Naomi Nicholson had a game-high 16 points for Cedar Valley and Taylor Miyasaki had 10.
Tooele wrapped up its regular season Thursday night at home against Uintah. The Buffs are hoping to get healthy between now and Wednesday, when they will play their first game of the Class 4A state tournament — they will find out their opponent when the final Ratings Percentage Index rankings are released Saturday.
“I don’t want to go one more game, get into the playoffs and go one-and-done,” Goss said. “That gets old. We’ve got to decide as a team if we’re going to pull it together and get back to playing defense the way we can play. Then, we can compete.”