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Pioneers open 5A tourney against top-ranked Churchill

The Lancers have won their last 11 games — by an average of better than 20 points


When the Sandy Pioneers defeated Benson in the first round of the state tournament on Friday, they celebrated their berth into the quarterfinals by sharing embraces and high-fives with friends, family and each other. The Pioneers came down off their euphoric high and back to reality when they took a moment to realize just what their win actually meant – a daunting matchup with No. 1-ranked Churchill.

Sandy feels it knows what it takes to beat elite teams, and it thinks all the pressure will be on Churchill.

“We know how good they are, but we are going to go for it,” Sandy post Justin Adams said. “We’ve got nothing to lose and we are going to leave it all out there.”

Sandy has faced some tough opponents this season, but the Pioneers haven’t seen anyone like Churchill. The Lancers entered the season as one of the top contenders to claim the 5A crown, and they have lived up to the hype so far. They have lost just four games all year, and two of those shortfalls came to top-tier schools from other states. Churchill went undefeated in league play and has won 11 straight games by an average of 21.6 points per game.

The key to Churchill’s success lies in its backcourt. The Lancers are led by guards Emanual Morgan and David Shedrick. Morgan and Shedrick are both athletic playmakers who can get to the rim and create their own shot. For Sandy, team defense will be huge in limiting Morgan and Shedrick. The Pioneers will have to do whatever is necessary to keep the two Churchill guards from getting behind them.

Sandy has played a stiff zone defense throughout the season, which kept them it in most games. The Pioneers will have to play their best defensive game of the year to keep it close.

On the offensive side of the ball, Sandy isn’t going to try to fool anyone. It is going to do everything possible to get senior post Justin Adams involved early and often. If Churchill keys in on Adams, Sandy’s other seniors will have to pick up the slack. The Pioneers’ second option is senior Jacob Groom. Groom was a lethal 3-point shooter for much of the season and that certainly lightened Adams’ load. Groom wasn’t as prolific against Benson, but he showed an ability to penetrate to the rim. Against the Techmen, Groom drew fouls on most drives to the basket. He is one of the best free-throw shooters on the team, so if he has to get his points from the line. Sandy will take the points any way they can get them.

The Pioneers know they face an uphill battle, but they believe anything can happen in a playoff setting.

“The state championship rarely goes to the best team. It usually goes to the team that gets hot,” Sandy coach Jason Maki said. “We know Churchill is the No. 1 team in the state, but hey, who cares?”