Bryan Siefker’s eyes were wide and his gaze distant.
It had been 10 minutes since the Corona del Sol boys basketball team refused to die one last time, and he was still struggling to wrap his head around it.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m in shock still.”
He has time to come to grips. This one will be in the record books forever.
Siefker led four Aztecs in double figures with 19 points and top-seeded Corona ended the Division I state title game on a 13-2 run to clip Pinnacle, 63-59, on Saturday afternoon at Jobing.com Arena.
The Pioneers led for nearly the entire contest, but went cold down the stretch as the Aztecs kept attacking.
Corona del Sol did not thoroughly dominate like it did a season ago on the way to a second straight championship, but always found the big plays when needed.
In the final, it was Siefker’s 3-pointer to cut into a seven-point deficit with 3:03 remaining, followed by huge buckets from Adam Gleave and Cassius Peat to pull ahead.
Drew Bender had a 3-point attempt to tie the game with 12 seconds left, but it hit both sides of the rim before popping out. Siefker secured the rebound and hit the first free throw to clinch another title.
It’s no surprise it was Siefker who corraled the final board. Throughout the postseason, he’s been apart of nearly every vital sequence for the Aztecs.
“I love (the big moments),” Siefker said. “It’s what you wait your whole life to do.”
Superstar Casey Benson only scored 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting in this one, and still the Aztecs found a way to get the job done. They outscored Pinnacle 21-12 in the final quarter.
“We just wanted to keep fighting and leave nothing on the floor,” Benson said.
The Aztecs entered the season as the preseason No. 4 team in Division I, but there were questions about this roster. Benson would undoubtedly lead the way, but for a team lacking height and a clear No. 2 scorer, a repeat seemed improbable.
Corona del Sol didn’t listen, and the team found its groove with a 3-1 mark at the VisitMesa.com Challenge in December and rode into the state tournament as the No. 1 seed.
“It was almost nicer,” Siefker said. “We were a little under the (radar). Not as much pressure.”
The road did get bumpy, as it took two overtimes and a last-second 3 by Siefker to beat Mountain Pointe in the second round and a gutsy effort to get past Goodyear Millennium in the quarterfinals.
The Aztecs played very well to knock off Desert Mountain in the semifinals, but Dorian Pickens scored 18 points in the first quarter here in the finals as Pinnacle assumed control.
Corona would make runs but the Pioneers continued to answer, and it seemed like the repeat would fall short. However, the Aztecs kept on throwing body blows, and eventually Pinnacle crumbled. The Pioneers scored 28 points in the first eight minutes but only 31 the rest of the way.
“We told them, ‘Hey, if they keep shooting like that then they deserve to win it,” Corona del Sol coach Sam Duane said. “But we didn’t think that they could.”
Pickens was fantastic for the Pioneers, scoring 26 points on 11-of-19 from the field and 4-of-7 from 3-point range. Bender had 22 points, but again his season ended in heartbreak. The Pioneers blew a late lead to Cesar Chavez in last year’s semifinals, eventually losing in overtime.
Pinnacle scored only two points in the final 3:24 after six straight points from Pickens had given the team a 57-50 lead.
“We just didn’t make shots we needed to make,” Pinnacle coach Charlie Wilde said.
Corona del Sol ended the season 29-5. While the road this year was different, there the Aztecs were once again, posing for team pictures and hoisting the hardware high into the air.
“This was a different makeup of a team,” Benson said. “We had to do all the little things. Rebound. Defend. We lost some key pieces from last year but we had a bunch of guys that stepped up this year and made plays.”
Corona del Sol 63, Pinnacle 59
Pinnacle 28 12 7 12 -- 59
Corona del Sol 23 10 9 21 -- 63
Pinnacle: Pickens 26, Bender 22, Stoddard 5, Andari 4, Griffin 2.
Corona del Sol: Siefker 19, Peat 12, Benson 12, Gleave 12, Tennyson 6, Givens 2.