SYRACUSE — Syracuse girls basketball finished tied for second place in Region 1 but fell into the No. 3 playoff seed after considering head-to-head tiebreakers.
It was maybe the only thing that hasn’t gone the Titans way since late-January.
Compare it to last year’s dead-last region finish and no one’s complaining.
The Titans are one of the hottest teams coming into the state playoffs, winners of five of the last six games.
The turnaround started before the season with a new coach — 28-year-old Braden Hamblin, a 2009 Syracuse alumnus who had previously never coached girls basketball at any level.
It continued with a strong non-region showing, nearly dovetailed after a 2-4 start to region games, and finished with a five-game winning streak that turned the Titans into a playoff team.
At the heart of it is a team led by four to five players in scoring, mostly underclassmen. Each night, they ride whoever has the “hot hand,” so to speak.
“When I say I thought I saw talent out there, it was the juniors and seniors. But then when I kind of got rolling and visited the junior highs, did some open gyms, I kind of saw that there was quite a bit of freshman and sophomore talent coming up,” Hamblin said.
Sophomore Rachel Godfrey leads the bunch with seven points per game and 6.7 rebounds.
Sophomore Baylee Sanders chips in 6.9 points and a team-best 2.4 steals, senior Paityn Williams (last year’s leading scorer) is at 6.8 points and 4.6 boards and junior Raynee Schenck is right at six points per game.
Godfrey said a fair amount of the girls played together at Syracuse Junior High, where the girls basketball team lost in the district championship game last year.
New talent, plus a perception around the region at the start of the year that a last-place team with a new coach couldn’t possibly do well this year, vaulted the Titans right into a good spot early in the year.
They were 7-2 going into region and beating teams they were supposed to beat. Then came close losses in the first round of region play. Maybe the non-region schedule filled with lower-classification teams made the 7-2 record a bit fluky.
“It kind of kicked us in the butt. Hamblin always told us that we only had so many more opportunities to play the game that we love, so I think that kind of hit us hard,” Williams said.
Then came the revenge tour.
Syracuse had lost to Layton on the road 38-36 from a last-second shot. The Titans beat the Lancers 30-25 the second time.
Then they throttled Clearfield, escaped Northridge, got revenge against Weber and got back at Davis.
Syracuse has won its last four games decided by 10 points or less. If it’s close and low-scoring, that’s mostly been a benefit to them this year.
Here’s their challenge: finding a way to beat second-seeded Westlake in the first round of the 6A state playoffs at 9:10 p.m. Monday at Salt Lake Community College.
For a Syracuse team that has no playoff experience, a combination of factors makes for a nervous first foray.
The Thunder is 16-5 overall, ranks first in the state in field goal percentage (72 percent) and seventh in field goal percentage (45 percent).
Westlake doesn’t get up a lot of shots but they usually go in. The team isn’t particularly turnover-prone (whereas Syracuse has been quite often), nor does it typically find itself in foul trouble.
6A Tournament: Can Fremont repeat?
Can Fremont girls basketball repeat as 6A state champions? Certainly.
Will they? That’s a different conversation. The Silver Wolves have the target on their back and a tournament field that’s especially looking forward to getting a shot at them.
Here’s what’s in their favor: Fremont has maybe the most talented team in the state plus a handful of players who started and/or played big minutes last year, which makes the fact that Fremont has just two seniors a misleading detail.
What’s not in their favor: last year they started three very smart seniors who made good decisions and brought a fourth off the bench. They don’t have that kind of luxury this year, though it hasn’t adversely affected their record at all.
The counterpoint to that: most of the team knows how to handle the state tournament atmosphere, hardly anyone can stop Emma Calvert from scoring inside, Timea Gardiner can do just about anything on the court and Haylee Doxey is the engine that makes Fremont go.
Calvert, a sophomore, averages 16.4 points per game. Gardiner, a freshman, averages 12.9 and Doxey, a junior, averages 11.2.
Fremont gets American Fork in the first round Monday (12:50 p.m. at SLCC), who’s probably the best No. 4 seed in the tournament having come from Region 4. Win that game and the winner of the Hunter/Herriman matchup awaits.
An intriguing potential matchup would be a Friday semifinal against Bingham, should it come to it. Bingham led Fremont 24-14 at halftime in a home non-region game this season then watched the Silver Wolves come back to win in overtime.
Couple that with the Silver Wolves’ 61-47 win over the Miners in last year’s state title game and, yes, it’s fair to say Bingham would be incredibly motivated to face Fremont should the stars align.
Region 1 has a tough first-round draw. Second-seeded Davis gets Lone Peak in the first round at 4:10 p.m. Monday. The Knights went 5-3 in Region 4 and tied for second, getting the third seed on head-to-head.
Hannah Loveland, Kylee Mabry and Callie Tolman all average just under eight points per game and the Darts get solid scoring from everywhere.
It helps, in the way that LP can’t just shut down one player, and it hurts in the way that you don’t have a player who you know can get a bucket when you need one.
Layton faces Bingham in the first round at 11:10 a.m. Meg Edwards leads the Lancers with 9.2 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Abbey Nelson chips in 7.3 points and Hailey Cuppett 6.4. Layton typically doesn’t get in foul trouble, nor does it turn the ball over much.
The Lancers’ playoff welcoming committee is led by a Bingham team that pulls down 11.3 offensive rebounds per game and shoots 70 percent from the foul line.
5A: Box Elder, Farmington hope to navigate deep field
Box Elder is hoping the tables don’t get turned. Remember last year when the Bees, a No. 4 seed, upset top-seeded Skyridge in the first round?
Well it’s Box Elder who’s the top seed, now, after blitzing through Region 5. The Bees get fourth-seeded Highland in the first round at 11:10 a.m. Tuesday at SLCC. Highland was a No. 4 seed last year and made a run to the semifinals.
Emily Isaacson averages team highs of 17.5 points, 10.8 boards, 2.8 assists and 1.6 blocks per game while shooting 80 percent from the foul line.
Of course, it’s not just her and it hasn’t been all year. Senior guard Morgan Reeder adds 14.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 2.6 steals per game.
Jenna Mortensen and Annika Quayle, a junior and sophomore respectively, average eight points per game, with Quayle pulling in 6.4 boards per contest and Mortensen dishing 2.8 assists.
It’s a balanced lineup that can score from inside and outside. That can go miles in the state tournament.
Farmington, for being a new school, will get some familiarity in the first round as the second-seeded Phoenix plays against Olympus High at 4:10 p.m. Tuesday. Farmington beat Olympus 55-48 on the road in December.
Sophomore Valerie Kunzler leads the Phoenix in scoring at 10.9 points per game, followed by three juniors — Brooklyn Perkins, Natalya Taylor and Naomi Kehl (and a senior, Maloree Chisholm) — who average between 6.5-7.2 points per game.
One thing to keep an eye on: all of Farmington’s region games were decided by double digits and the Phoenix hasn’t played a single-digit game since a 40-36 win over Riverton before winter break.
Viewmont turned a 3-8 non-region start with plenty of big losses into a 6-4 region campaign and the No. 3 seed. Karlia Gunnell leads the Vikings at 12.4 points per game, Emma Carr averages 6.4 points and 6.1 rebounds, and the Vikes play Murray at 9:10 p.m. Tuesday.
The daunting task for fourth-seeded Bountiful is top-seeded East High, the defending state champion, at 12:50 p.m. Tuesday.
The Leopards handed Fremont its only loss of the season and did it by 11 in Plain City. So the Braves have their hands full. But just like Layton, they’ve had their backs against the wall and won the past two games.
All games at Salt Lake Community College
Monday, Feb. 18
11:10 a.m. — Layton vs. Bingham
12:50 p.m. — Fremont vs. American Fork
4:10 p.m. — Davis vs. Lone Peak
9:10 p.m. — Syracuse vs. Westlake
Tuesday, Feb. 19
11:10 a.m. — Box Elder vs. Highland
12:50 p.m. — Bountiful vs. East
4:10 p.m. — Farmington vs. Olympus
9:10 p.m. — Viewmont vs. Murray