When it was time for someone to step up and hit a shot, Chaparral had just the guy to do it.
Senior Alex Pyper made seven critical free throws in the fourth quarter as the Firebirds held off a second-half rally by top-seeded Pinnacle to win 61-58 on Wednesday in a 5A-II boys basketball state tournament semifinal game at Jobing.com Arena.
“I struggled from the field tonight, but I was able to have the ball when it mattered and make my free throws,” said Pyper, who had 13 points and seven rebounds for the Firebirds. “That’s something I pride myself on. Being able to hit shots in the fourth quarter is big.”
The Firebirds (20-9) will take on Laveen Betty Fairfax in the championship game on Friday at 3 p.m.
It is Chaparral’s second straight trip to the finals. The Firebirds lost a heartbreaker in 2010, falling 59-58 to Anthem Boulder Creek.
“Coming so close last year with all of our juniors, we knew we were going to have a chance to play for it again,” Pyper said. “The goal of our season was state championship or bust. We’re not going to be satisfied with just getting there.”
Pinnacle, which started all underclassmen, finishes up the year 24-5, including two wins over Chaparral in the regular season.”
“I’m proud of my kids,” Pinnacle coach Charlie Wilde said. “They’re a young group, so this is a great experience for them. They never gave up.”
Chaparral led by as many as 12 points early in the third quarter before Pinnacle made its run behind Drew Bender, who hit five 3-pointers on his way to a game-high 24 points. With his team down 37-25, Bender scored 11 of his teams next 19 points, including back-to-back 3-pointers that gave Pinnacle its first lead of the game, 44-43 with 6:40 left in the fourth.
“Drew Bender hit some unbelieveable shots for them,” Chaparral coach Aaron Windler said. “And I felt like we did a pretty good job against him.”
The two teams traded leads on 3-pointers from Chaparral’s Justin Cole and Pinnacle’s Chris Klima before Chaparral regained the lead for good on a basket by sophomore forward Joe Boyd, who was a huge part in the Firebirds dominance of play in the paint. Boyd had 16 points and 10 rebounds and center Eric Conklin had five offensive rebounds.
“We knew our big men really matched up well with them, so we tried to take advantage of that,” Pyper said. “Joe really kept us in it in the first half and we were able to make some shots in the second half.”
Pinnacle stayed close, but could never break through late in the game, thanks mostly to Pyper’s free-throw shooting. When Bender hit a deep 3-pointer from the top of the key with 29.7 seconds left, Pyper responded with a pair of free throws to give the Firebirds a 59-55 lead.
Bender made it interesting when he hit his final 3-pointer with 4.8 seconds left to pull the Pioneers to within 60-58, but Zeke Chapman (18 points) hit one free throw with 2.6 seconds remaining and then missed the second on purpose, leaving Pinnacle only a desperation heave at the buzzer.
Chaparral took advantage of Pinnacle’s early struggles, jumping out to a 14-4 lead in the first quarter. Pinnacle committed five turnovers and looked out of sorts during the opening eight minutes, while Chaparral dominated inside. Boyd scored six points in the first period, and the Firebirds had six offensive rebounds.
Pinnacle started to get some traction going in the second behind Kevin Bowman, who scored seven points in the quarter, including a old-fashioned three-point play that pulled the Pioneers to within 23-20 with 1:50 left. Chaparral built its 28-20 halftime cushion thanks to two free throws from Pyper and a 3-pointer from Hayden Bishop.
“I think it was just missing shots in the first quarter was the deal,” Wilde said. “Being young, nerves, I’m not sure what it was, but the ball just didn’t go in the hoop for us.”