ST. GEORGE — Desert Hills' boys basketball team was put through the ringer this season throughout a brutal Region 9 campaign. It showed incredible poise to win the league, and that same poise was on display at Dixie State College in the 3A semifinals Friday night.
Whenever region rival Dixie made a run — and it had plenty of them — the Thunder responded. When the Flyers took their first lead of the game with under three minutes remaining, the Thunder never panicked and regained the lead for good on the ensuing possession.
"That's kind of been a mark of our team all year long. They've been consistent," said Desert Hills coach Steve Melessa.
That consistency and poise proved to be the difference in a thrilling 55-51 victory over Dixie, an outcome that was in doubt until Jaden Beckstrand's clutch offensive rebound and free throw with nine seconds remaining.
With its seventh straight victory over Dixie, Desert Hills advances to Saturday's championship game against Hurricane at 1:30 p.m.
"The team was just clicking tonight, we just made great plays," said Ott, who came up huge with 20 points.
His poise and driving layup after Dixie took a 48-47 lead with 2:42 remaining was arguably the most important play of the game. Desert Hills never relinquished the lead after Ott put his team back in front 49-48 with 2:21 left.
"We worked it around, we worked it around until we did get a layup. It was a big play," said Ott.
Desert Hills did just enough from the free-throw line — 5 of 10 — in the final two minutes to pull away.
It might not have happened had it not been for Beckstrand. An unsung hero most of the year, Beckstrand came up with a huge steal and offensive rebound in the final 20 seconds to seal it.
With Desert Hills leading 53-51 following a huge 3-pointer from Dixie's DeShon Brown, Beckstrand came up with a clutch steal outside the 3-point line. After Dixie finally fouled Ott, Beckstrand grabbed the offensive rebound on Ott's second miss with nine seconds left and then made 1 of 2 himself to push the advantage to an insurmountable four points.
"Jaden's harder on himself than anybody. He didn't have such a great game against Ben Lomond (in the quarters), but I was just so happy for him," said Melessa.
Desert Hills got off to a great start building a 19-11 lead early in the second quarter, but Dixie came to play as well, particularly Walker Swensen. He scored 14 points on 7 of 8 shooting in the first half as Dixie weathered the hot start and only trailed 28-21 at the half.
Swensen finished with a game-high 26 points.
"I've never seen him play so well. I play with him all summer, and I love the kid. He had a great game he almost single handedly took it to us tonight," said Ott.
After a back-and-forth third quarter, Dixie came alive early in the fourth, tying it for the first time since 2-2 with an 8-2 run as Brown's three-point play leveled the score at 43-43 with 6:26 remaining.
Desert Hills regained momentum on a thunderous breakaway dunk by Tyler Ott that put his team ahead 47-43. The no-quit Flyers weren't done yet though.
Brown cut it to 47-45 on a layup with 4:22 remaining, and then Swensen gave Dixie its first lead of the game at 48-47 on a three-point play with 2:42 left in the game.