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Sandy boys down Spartans on the big stage

The Pioneers erase an early deficit to beat Hillsboro 60-57 in a game played at the Moda Center


by: SANDY POST: PARKER LEE - Sandys Miles Brown saves a ball back in play while falling out of bounds at the baseline during the teams 60-57 win over Hillsboro.   The Sandy Pioneers were more than a little bummed out to see their winter break come to an end, and not just because they had to go back to school. The Pioneers went 5-0 during the break, capped by a 60-57 win over Hillsboro at the Moda Center on Friday.

The thrill of playing in an NBA arena overwhelmed Sandy initially against the Spartans, and Hillsboro raced out to an 8-0 lead in the first few minutes. Sandy’s reflexes were a tad slow and the team gave up a string of offensive rebounds that gave the Spartans second-chance points.

By the end of the first quarter, the Pioneers figured out how to block out the 20,000 seats surrounding them.

“It’s always interesting to see what’s going to happen when you come to a new place,” Sandy coach Jason Maki said. “I think we were a little star-struck to start the game. Once we realized we were just playing basketball, we settled in and played better.”

The Pioneers nabbed the last six points of the opening period to pull within two points. Hillsboro rebuilt its lead in the second quarter, but Sandy’s Juan Ruiz broke it down. Ruiz busted loose for 12 points in the period, highlighted by two huge 3-pointers. Both of his treys came just when the Spartans were threatening to blow the game open. His first 3 came after Hillsboro scored five unanswered points to go up 27-19.

The Spartans tossed in a layup on their next possession, only to see it nullified by Ruiz. From about the same spot where Miami Heat forward Chris Bosh dropped a game-winning 3-pointer on the Blazers six days earlier, Ruiz swished his second straight deep-ball.

“I had to shoot from out there. It was exciting,” Ruiz said.

The spark provided by Ruiz spilled over to his teammates in the third quarter. After Hillsboro went 1-for-2 from the free-throw line on its first possession to take a 34-32 lead, Sandy scored on back-to-back trips down the floor to take its first lead of the contest. The Pioneers then drew two straight Hillsboro charges which they converted into five points, extending their scoring run to 9-0 and their lead to seven points.

Sandy maintained that advantage for the balance of the game. It led by as many as nine points with 6:45 left, but the Spartans stormed back. In the space of two minutes, Hillsboro climbed back to within a point.

The Pioneers held their lead by earning trips to the free-throw line down the stretch. They weren’t perfect from the charity stripe, but knocked down enough foul shots to stay on top.

The few misses Sandy had did afford Hillsboro a chance, and the Spartans had a golden opportunity to send the game to overtime. Trailing by three, Hillsboro inbounded with 10 seconds left and fired off an immediate 3-pointer which was off the mark. The Spartans came up with the offensive rebound and kicked it into the corner for another shot. This attempt was on line, but short. It bounced off the front side of the rim as the horn sounded.

“The coach in me thought that last 3 was going to go in,” Maki said. “That was a good win. Hillsboro moves into our league next year, so it was nice to jump on them and let them know we can beat them.”

Ruiz paced the winning effort with 15 points. Miles Brown followed closely behind with 13. Canyon Dwyre and Hunter Rowe combined to score 18 second-half points, and each finished with 10.

With the win, Sandy improved to 6-1 and bolstered its ranking to No. 7 in the 5A ranks.