TAYLORSVILLE — After capturing the 5A state championship last season and advancing to the semifinals in 2014, third-seeded Brighton holds itself to high standards and expects to have postseason success.
“Yes. I’d say a little bit,” Brighton star power forward Dani Barton said about feeling pressure to defend the 5A title. “We all want to win it again so badly because we know what that feels like. But at the same time, I am really confident in my team — I feel like we’ll do really well.”
And for good reason.
With several key players returning with invaluable championship experience and anchored by 5A’s leading scorer in Barton, whose 21.4 points per game ranks fourth in the entire state, the Bengals came out and made a statement Tuesday afternoon.
Brighton opened the game on a commanding 26-4 run over the first 13 minutes and never looked back en route to a 57-25 drubbing of second-seeded West High in the first round of the 5A playoffs at Salt Lake Community College.
“I didn’t know what to expect in this first game because first games always seem to be very tough. But we played really good defense and we came out ready to play,” Brighton head coach Jim Gresh said.
And, after competing in arguably the best and most competitive region in the state, Region 3, highlighted by undefeated and top-ranked Copper Hills (21-0) and second-ranked Bingham (19-5), the defending champs’ various losses hopefully helped them work out their kinks and prepared them for the ultra-competitive state tournament.
“We did come out of a very difficult region and I hope it helps us, because Copper Hills and Bingham are really tough. So I really hope it helps prepare us,” said Gresh. “We just come to play. We are going to play the best we can. There are a lot of good teams here and we know that — we’ll just do the best we can.”
After opening the second half with an 18-point lead, the Bengals kept its foot on the gas pedal and outscored the visitors 30-13 in the second and third quarters combined, including a 15-7 third, to make it a 43-17 game with just eight minutes remaining.
Barton was especially impressive and always stepped up when called upon as she poured in a game-high 23 points with one 3-pointer to anchor the offense while junior point guard Brooke Ingles knocked down three triples and added 14 points for the home team in the win.
“For me, individually, I just thought going to the basket hard (got me into a rhythm) and rebounding was the key for me today. We try to never be complacent,” Barton said.
Brighton is now set to take on top-seeded Sky View, which handed the Bengals a heartbreaking 53-50 loss in the first game of the year clear back on Nov. 24, in the 5A quarterfinals.
“They’re way different now. In that first game, I think they had some girls in foul trouble, but they’re a fantastic team,” said Gresh. “I watched them in the first game (today) and it’s going to be very tough. It’ll be a battle.”
Ryan Love is a full-time student and has been a part-time sportswriter for Deseret News since Oct. 2012.
Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724