COTTONWOOD HEIGHTS — "Welcome to Region 4."
After careful thought, those were the first words out of the mouth of Brighton coach Lyndon Johnson Wednesday night.
Johnson and a boisterous home crowd watched the Bengals rally from a 13-point deficit to beat previously unbeaten Lone Peak 69-66 in the Region 4 opener for both teams.
The game left both players and coaches emotionally drained. Lone Peak led 53-44 going into the final period, but the Bengals' depth probably made a big difference. The game was played at a fast pace and the Bengals used 11 players.
Brighton started the fourth quarter by scoring the first nine points, tying it on a basket by Sam Wunderli with 6:13 remaining.
The rest of the game was as intense as a state championship contest.
"That is a state championship-caliber team," said Lone Peak coach Quincy Lewis, whose team has won the 5A state title two of the last three years. "They have the personality of their coach — they fight and fight."
Then the big plays went like this:
Brighton's Austin Hudson forced a held ball with 19.5 seconds remaining and Brighton holding a one-point lead.
Miller hit a pair of free throws.
Brighton fouled Lone Peak immediately to prevent a 3-point shot, and Emery calmly hit both.
Wunderli hit two free throws, capping a big night that showed him with 27 points and seven rebounds.
Then, with 1.2 seconds left, Jordan Wertz tipped a pass out of bounds that was headed for Emery, the freshman sharpshooter who would likely have had an open three-pointer.
After that, there wasn't enough time to get a clear shot, and Brighton celebrated its eighth win in 10 games and — just as important — moved to 1-0 in region.
Johnson said the Bengals' recent trip to Gillette, Wyo., where they finished second in the tournament there, helped prepare them.
"We had two games exactly like this," he said. "That's why we go there. And I think every Region 4 game is going to be like this."
That was the case on this night, and it started early as Emery and Tannon Pedersen broke Brighton's full-court pressure and then put on a shooting clinic from the perimeter. Emery finished with 26 points, and nailed 6-of-7 shots from three-point range. Pedersen added 16 points, and had four treys. Their shooting helped Lone Peak carry at least a 10-point lead for most of the first three quarters.
Brighton's rally was helped by Miller, who shot just 3 of 13 from the field and finished with 14 points. But Miller nailed all three of his three-pointers in the final quarter and Brighton took advantage of the momentum.
"They hit some of those threes when they were down, and they were big shots," said Lewis.