ST. GEORGE – Ashley Beckstrand made choirs sing, angels play trumpets, and knees buckle with an assist that was part John Stockton, part Magic Johnson, and all awesome.
Beckstrand drove into the paint and bounced a pass under her legs to the left into the hands of a wide-open Kenzie Done, who put in the layup that gave Desert Hills a 61-44 lead over the Dixie Flyers (10-7, 3-5 Region 9).
It was the apex of a second half dominated by the Thunder (10-7, 4-4 Region 9), leading to a 67-46 victory that got them back into the race for a home playoff game in the league standings.
“In the flow of the game, whatever happens, happens,” said Beckstrand, as if a bounce pass under the legs was a second-nature move.
Beckstrand and teammate Elly Williams each scored 21 points to overpower Dixie from the third quarter inbound onward. Done knocked down a baseline jump shot, Williams put in a layup and a free throw after a foul, and Kylie Williams scored a pair of baskets to cap a 9-2 run at the start of the second half.
The Thunder pulled out the 21-point win in the coaching debut for Ron Denos, who stepped in as the interim this week following ex-coach Gary Tomlinson’s resignation.
“It’s not an easy thing to deal with,” Beckstrand said. “The administration is concerned for us players, and Coach Denos came in focused on having us come together.”
The blowout win on the road certainly helped to get things started the right way.
“On the first day, I let (the players) show me what they can do and what they’re comfortable doing,” Denos said. “They found out a lot about me tonight. I’m intense, and I expect the same thing from them.”
Denos elected not to comment on rumors swirling that Tomlinson stepped away from the program because of harassment from players’ parents.
“I don’t worry about anything that happened before,” Denos said. “My focus is on the players and how I can help them. I’m here for the girls and nothing else.”
Dixie and Desert Hills played close the entire first half, and Beckstrand said the Flyers hung in there because of the full-court pressure.
Dixie’s Aubri Challis forced a handful of turnovers in the first quarter, including one that she took back to the hoop herself for a fastbreak layup. That gave Dixie a 10-8 lead.
After Desert Hills grabbed the lead at 16-15 on a wing 3-pointer by Beckstrand, Challis answered on a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer, assisted by Tyler Stilson. Dixie took the lead, 18-16, and scored another two points on free throws by Alexa Estridge to close the first quarter.
Grace Killian gave the Flyers the lead in the second quarter on a jump shot from the wing and layup that she threw to the backboard after getting fouled. She missed the free throw, but the Flyers led 30-28.
Elly Williams scored on a layup in transition, and Beckstrand hit a pair of free throws to give Desert Hills a two-point lead going into halftime.
Rather than take the rest of the week off, the Thunder host a non-region game against Quest Prep (Nevada) on Thursday. Dixie plays at Pine View on Thursday — a team it beat at home on Jan. 6.
Follow Richard Briggs on Twitter, @BriggsRich.