February Frenzy has finally slowed down after an action-packed few weeks.
Before we turn our attention to the spring sports season, it’s time to look back at some of the standout moments from the boys and girls basketball state tournaments. The postseason had a little bit of everything, but here are the dozen doozies which stood tall:
Power Points fiasco
An alleged flaw in the power points system created some inequity in the seedings, as teams which played more games this season were unfairly rewarded. This alleged flaw affected all sports, but it was particularly noticeable in basketball because of the added games in the sectional tournaments. The alleged flaw allowed some teams to make the state tournament and others to miss out, and it greatly affected the seedings in every division. The flaw wasn’t realized until late in the season and there wasn’t time to change anything, but the error and the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s refusal to admit the mistake left some teams unhappy.
Gary Ernst reaches milestone
While the Mountain View postseason ended rather quickly in a blowout second-round loss to Desert Vista, Toros coach Gary Ernst still added another impressive accomplishment to his prestigious career. In a first-round victory over Rincon, Ernst captured his 775th coaching victory, which surpassed Tucson Sahuaro’s Dick McConnell for the most all-time in Arizona history (although the career records of both men include coaching stops out of state). Ernst has been a head coach since 1974, and the vast majority of his victories have come with the Toros in the past 24 seasons. He is 775-293 in his career. Ernst missed a week of the regular season with a blood clot in his leg, but returned to the bench soon after and looks to have several good coaching years left.
Hamilton holds on to make history
Outside of St. Mary’s, Hamilton was the story of the Div. I girls state tournament. The Huskies suffered heart break in the first round of the 2011 state tournament with the infamous 6-on-5 sequence that went unwhistled to end that game (and Hamilton’s season). Sure enough, the Huskies reached their first state semifinal game in school history against ... Mountain View. Hamilton steamrolled for three quarters, but Mountain View furiously fought back in the fourth behind Jordan Jensen. The Toros erased a 16-point deficit when Hamilton went nearly seven minutes without a field goal, but a controversial no-call on contact when Sabrina Haines had a steal and layup kept Mountain View from taking a lead in the final minute. Four Huskies’ free throws in the final 30 seconds led to a 52-50 squeaker of a win that sent Hamilton to its first state title game.
Which way did it go?
Twice beaten soundly, one favor returned. Chandler beat Mountain View in last year’s 5A-I girls basketball semifinal, then won by 21 points in early January this season, but the Hawkins sisters (Arnecia and Armani) and, later, Jordan Jensen, had none of it during the state quarterfinals. With former Thunder player and Chandler standout Simone Westbrook (20 points) saddled with foul trouble for most of the second half, the Toros took control against the athletic, swarming Wolves in Mountain View’s 58-49 win against a team most felt was the only chance to disrupt St. Mary’s. The No. 1-seed Toros advanced to a second consecutive semifinal.
Larry Lewis’ senior season didn’t end with a coveted state championship, but he surely did all he could to help Arcadia get one. The Titans’ shooting guard hit a game-winning bucket in the sectional championships to secure the team the top overall seed in the Division II tournament, and then scored 38 and 42 points to help Arcadia advance to the state semifinals. The team’s luck ran out there against eventual champion Peoria, although Lewis scored 19 points in that one, as well. Lewis averaged 33 points per game in the postseason, nearly 10 better than his impressive regular season average. He is committed to play for Southern California next season.
Seton Catholic trifecta
No name recognition or athleticism from previous Seton Catholic girls teams. No matter. Moving up to Division II with only four players who received playing time during last year’s 4A-II championship, Karen Self’s team did it with poise, passing and dynamic defense. A squad heavy on sophomores and juniors, it grew up during the Nike Tournament of Champions against top competition, survived a difficult Div. II, Section III schedule against Saguaro, Arcadia, and Phoenix South Mountain, and held on in three of four close games during the state tournament that were decided late. After pulling away from Peoria late in the title game, and given the roster and variance of the previous two title teams, the school’s third consecutive state championship and sixth overall in Self’s tenure might have meant a little more.
The Perry boys basketball team trailed No. 7 Basha by 16 points with 4:15 left in the fourth quarter before staging the best comeback of the postseason. Desmond Howard scored seven points in the final 45 seconds and hit a pair of game-winning free throws with three seconds remaining to stun the Bears, who were seen as state title contenders until a late-season swoon. Basha missed five free throws in the final minute to allow Perry to stage the remarkable rally. The Pumas advanced to the state quarterfinals as a No. 23 seed before their season was ended by Pinnacle. Perry was on the postseason bubble, but proved it definitely belonged.
Back on top
Gilbert Christian might be one of the smaller schools in the state, but the expectations for the boys basketball team are huge. The Knights lost in the 1A championship game to Orme a year ago and it served as motivation this season. Gilbert Christian reached the apex again by defeating Thatcher for the Division III state championship. It was the second title in three seasons for Gilbert Christian, and with three starters returning next season, the Knights don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon.
Desert Vista played with emotion in the state tournament as coach Dave Williams dealt with his father’s health issues. His players responded with the win over Mountain View and another one over fourth-seeded Gilbert before falling to eventual champion Corona del Sol. The Aztecs lost only once year, but were probably challenged the most by the Thunder, especially in the semifinals when they had a chance to win on their second to last possession, but Danny Powell missed a reverse layup and Kyle Pitman’s tip-in fell short.
Pinnacle stopped short
Throughout the regular season, Pinnacle and Corona del Sol looked like the two best boys basketball teams in Division I. As the Pioneers’ semifinal game wound down, it looked like they would be holding up their end of the bargain by making the championship game. However, J.D. Reagan had other ideas. The senior shooting guard for Cesar Chavez hit a deep 3-pointer from the wing with 12 seconds left to force overtime, and the Champions would go on to the victory to end Pinnacle’s run. The Pioneers lost in the state semifinals for the second consecutive season.
Corona del Sol sizzles
It was a dream season for the Corona del Sol boys basketball team. The Aztecs finished 32-1 on the year and won their final 30 games, capped with a Division I state finals victory over Cesar Chavez. The team was one of the most balanced in recent memory, as guards Calaen Robinson and Casey Benson teamed with forwards Avery Moss and Andrus Peat to give opponents trouble. Coach Sam Duane Jr. captured his first state championship on the bench after falling short in the championship game in 2006. Corona del Sol’s only loss of the season came against Mesquite in late November. The team went undefeated in power point games and finished 4-0 in the prestigious VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge.
St. Mary’s wins national championship?
It might have been the most dominant girls basketball team in state history. St. Mary’s returned its entire roster that lost one game all season in 2010-2011 and won the 2011 state championship. This time, they were a perfect 30-0 through Arizona schools, out-of-state schools at the Nike Tournament of Champions and an Australian team, and were barely threatened in any game this season (a 6-point victory against Chandler was by far the closest game played all season). They were a No. 3 seed only in print, as they were ranked No. 1 in several national outlets. The Knights won their four state tournament games by an average of 33 points with balanced scoring and ferocious pressure defense. Two key components were seniors Shilpa Tummala and Cortnee Walton, but the rest will return.
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