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3A basketball championship: Late steal, free throws help Morgan girls win 2nd title in 3 years

By Patrick Carr - Prep Sports Reporter | Feb 25, 2023

For what seemed the entirety of the game, Morgan High’s girls basketball team struggled with Grantsville’s pressure defense.

The Cowboys kept stealing the ball, forcing turnovers, forcing the Trojans into uncomfortable situations.

Ironically, Morgan iced its 3A state championship game victory with a steal of its own.

Leading 68-66 with 6.5 seconds left after an Emmory Morrell free throw, Elena Birkeland stole the Grantsville inbounds pass, got fouled, made both free throws and the No. 3 Trojans beat No. 1 Grantsville 70-66 on Saturday at Southern Utah University.

They weathered dozens of turnovers, foul trouble for their most dominant player and beat the Cowboys (24-3) for the first time this season after losing both regular-season contests against them.

“Oh man, I think everyone’s just on cloud nine right now, just super happy you know. Everyone’s proud of each other, it’s a fun time,” Morgan coach Sterling Mack said by phone.

Birkeland scored 20 points and shot 10 of 11 at the foul line, finishing a three-game run at SUU where she averaged 20 points per game after spraining her right wrist in the quarterfinals against Ben Lomond a week earlier.

Alyvia Jaffa scored 20 points for the Trojans (21-6) despite fouling out with 48.6 seconds left in the game and sitting on the bench for 8:31 of game time in the second half with four fouls.

When Jaffa left the game after picking up her fourth foul with 5:42 left in the third quarter, Morgan led 41-27 and was shutting down the Cowboys on defense.

As soon as Jaffa left the game, Grantsville embarked on a 14-0 run to tie the game at 41 with 2:42 left in the third. Mack didn’t call a timeout during the run because he felt it would show panic.

“I just trusted the girls to keep the game close,” he said.

Morgan bent but didn’t break. Two big baskets by Amaya Rogers, who scored 17 points, made it 45-41 for the Trojans and they led 50-48 going to the fourth.

Grantsville led by as much as 58-54 in the fourth quarter. Then, Kaydence Wardell made a bucket, Jaffa checked back in and two Birkeland free throws tied the game.

Rogers made a free throw to put Morgan up 65-64 with 47.8 seconds left, then Birkeland got a steal and a runout for a 67-64 lead.

Leading 67-66 with 6.5 seconds left, Morrell missed her first free throw and made her second. Birkeland picked off the inbounds pass on the right side and sealed the win at the foul line.

“That’s just a great player making a play,” Mack said.

It’s Morgan’s second 3A state title in three years. Both times, the Trojans were the underdog, but they likely won’t have that distinction anymore.

Two years ago, they were the No. 8 seed in the tournament and beat seeds Nos. 1, 2 and 4 en route to the title. This year, No. 3 Morgan beat the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds to win the tournament.

The Trojans lost both regular-season meetings against the Cowboys, 60-40 and 63-58, and lost out on the Region 13 title.

Same as 2021, they won the state title without winning the region title, where last season they won the region title and lost in the state semifinals.


CEDAR CITY — Alyvia Jaffa had 22 points, 16 rebounds and five blocks to lead No. 3 Morgan to a 3A semifinal win over No. 2 Richfield (21-4) at SUU on Friday.

Elena Birkeland scored 14 points for Morgan and Amaya Rogers tallied 10.

Justin Johnson contributed to this report.

Connect with reporter Patrick Carr via email at pcarr@standard.net, Twitter @patrickcarr_ and Instagram @standardexaminersports.


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