This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Most of the core has been together since they were middle schoolers, shooting jumpers in the gym, anticipating and running through the motions of what a high school state playoff tournament would be like. The talk of the pressure, of how they'd handle the final two minutes of a game up and hoping to hold onto the lead.
On Friday night, the Bountiful Braves handled themselves and punched their ticket to the 4A state title game Saturday against Orem. It's been a long time coming for this group, especially on the heels of last year's semifinal heartbreak when Sam Merrill, Zac Seljaas and Jeff Pollard walked off the floor moments after Sky View's Jalen Moore hit a halfcourt buzzer-beater in overtime to shock the title-driven Braves.
"We haven't said a whole lot about it," Merrill said.
Because last year was last year. This year is about Bountiful, its 25-1 season and ending the chase for a crown with the feeling of accomplishment. Now only 32 minutes separate the Braves from their goal after their 63-54 semifinal win Friday over Olympus at the Huntsman Center.
"One more to complete the season," said Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell. "That's the goal at the beginning: You want to win region and you want to win state, and our guys have got a shot. Not many teams get to say that, so I'm proud of these kids to have worked as hard as they have."
Bountiful had to work for it against the Titans.
Despite hitting seven first-half 3-pointers, the Braves were forced to weather several storms, including a 13-2 run by the Titans in the second quarter that briefly gave Olympus the lead. Despite responding with a 15-1 run between the second and third quarters, Bountiful was again put on its heels when the Titans' 3-point shooting put them within four with three minutes to go.
But Merrill (18 points, eight assists) and Seljaas (22 points, five rebounds, five assists) took matters into their own hands, scoring 11 consecutive points to put the game out of reach.
Guard Jordan Bleak had 14 points, hitting several timely shots to go along with timely defensive plays. "People don't talk about him," Merrill said Bleak. The Tigers may have to in Saturday's title game.
Bleak, Andrew Lund and Trevor Lloyd took turns shadowing Olympus star Alec Monson, one of 4A's premier scorers, holding him to 10 points on just five field-goal attempts.
"That is terrific stuff," Maxwell said. "It's those unsung guys that played great defense. That's what you've got to do against a great player."
4A semis: Bountiful 63, Olympus 54
R Led by Zac Seljaas (22 points, five rebounds, five assists), Sam Merrill (18 points, eight assists) and Jordan Bleak (14 points), Bountiful punches its ticket to the 4A title game.
• Bountiful limits Olympus star Alec Monson to 10 points on five field-goal attempts.
• The Braves and Titans combined to hit 16 3-pointers in the 4A semifinal.