SANDY — It wasn't the most crisp half of soccer the Riverhawks have played during their memorable season, but boy were they clinical.
London Miller scored twice in the second half, including the game-winner in the 78th minute, and Ridgeline held off Desert Hills, 3-2, in an intense, entertaining semifinal match at the 4A State Championships on Thursday night at Jordan High School.
Second-seeded Ridgeline (15-3-1) will now square off against top-seeded Ogden (17-2-0) in Friday's championship match at Real Salt Lake's Rio Tinto Stadium at 4 p.m. It's the Riverhawks' first-ever appearance in the finals in the program's fourth year of existence.
"It feels so good," Ridgeline center back Shelby Murphy said. "We've practiced so hard for moments like these, and I love every single one of my teammates. Our coaches have worked us hard for this moment, and I'm so thankful for this. This is what we've been working for, so this is the type of game that we like."
All five goals were netted in the second half, with the Riverhawks burying three of their four shots on frame. Ridgeline took the lead twice in the half, but sixth-seeded Desert Hills (15-3-1) battled back on both occasions before Miller provided the heroics.
"Desert Hills played a heck of a game," Miller said. "It was going back and forth, and coming into the second half, we really wanted to focus on putting our shots away because in the first half we had a few goals that got taken away from us."
Ironically enough, the Riverhawks were more crisp with their combination play and possession in the opening half, but didn't have a goal to show for it. The Region 11 champions definitely were a bit unlucky not to dent the scoreboard on a few occasions. For starters, Halle Van Yperen and Tenzi Knowles pinged shots off the underside of the crossbar — both of which might have barely crossed the mouth of the goal. The rebound off the Knowles' strike was headed in by Peighton Harward, but was disallowed due to an offside call.
Additionally, Van Yperen had two other golden scoring opportunities in the first half, including a shot that the Desert Hills goalkeeper just got enough of a touch on to prevent a goal. The Riverhawks also played well defensively as they limited the Thunder to a pair of shots and zero corner kicks in the opening half.
"I think our season has trained us for that," Ridgeline head coach Mark Tureson said. "We've had multiple games where we've had the exact scenario, hit the underneath (of the crossbar) ... and it trains us. We've learned that we don't get down, we just elevate our game. That's what we do and I'm proud of the girls for that."
To their credit, the Thunder turned things around and were much, much more dangerous in the attack after halftime. In fact, Ridgeline keeper Aspen Wallin was called upon to make a pair of big-time saves in the first six minutes of the second half.
"She was clutch for us at that time," Tureson said of Wallin. "We had to have (those saves). Their throw-ins, they were just like corner kicks, and so every time the ball came in the box, (those Desert Hills) players had to be marked. They were dangerous. (Our players) were very disciplined and that's what we had to be tonight in order to beat Desert Hills."
As well as the Thunder played at the start of the second half, it was Ridgeline that dented the scoreboard first. Van Yperen was taken down in the 18-yard box and converted on the resulting penalty kick in the 46th minute with a well-driven strike the keeper was able to get a slight piece of.
The Thunder equalized about nine minutes later on a PK of their own. A Ridgeline player was whistled for a foul in the box, and Jaydn Nelson finished from the penalty spot.
The Riverhawks retook the lead in the 61st minute on a beautiful through ball from Miller to Abbie Kotter, who calmly buried her one-v-one opportunity inside the near post.
Desert Hills was undaunted, though, as it pulled even nine minutes later when Siena Gargano came flying in to knee in a corner kick.
It appeared the Riverhawks were headed to overtime for the second straight match, but Miller was not about to be denied. Van Yperen did an outstanding job battling for a 50-50 ball and she headed one into the path of Miller, who used her blazing speed and tenacity to blow past a defender. No. 10 then slotted an unsavable shot inside the far post for her 35th goal of the season.
"Once she gets the ball at her feet behind the defense, she's so clinical," Tureson said. "I just can't say enough. She's so composed, she's been there, done that. That's what we work for. Halle did exactly what I asked her to do when I sent her in. She did exactly what she needed to get it on (Miller's) feet. I'm very proud of Halle for executing exactly what we wanted her to do."
In the process, Ridgeline put an end to Desert Hills' 12-match unbeaten streak. And now the Riverhawks' have their shot at a red-hot Ogden side.
"This is a dream come true to be playing in the championship at Rio Tinto, and hopefully we can come out with another win," Miller said.