Through struggles on the court and in the foul column, Gilbert Christian kept hoping and waiting for someone to fill Sam Jones' void.
It took until the final five minutes, but Keaton Ranger raised his hand.
With Jones, the No. 2-seeded Knights' leading scorer saddled by foul trouble, Ranger and Roberto Reyes made the big baskets down the stretch to help Gilbert Christian pull out a 67-57 win over No. 3 Scottsdale Christian in the Division III boys basketball state tournament semifinals on Friday at Jobing.com Arena.
Gilbert Christian is seeking a third state title in four years before it moves up to Division II next year, and the Knights will play Friday night's winner between No. 9 Valley Christian and No. 4 Snowflake for the championship on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Jobing.com Arena.
Despite the two East Valley schools being of the same size, these schools had never played each other until Friday (outside of summer ball or kids' club teams), but SCA put perhaps the biggest non-Division I school scare into Gilbert Christian since December.
"We didn't play our best and they were good," Gilbert Christian coach Jerome Joseph said. "They're a good team and they didn't come here just to show up."
Positivity was aligned to near-perfection for Scottsdale Christian. The Eagles fought back from some hot Gilbert Christian shooting early to only trail 29-28 at halftime, but with Jones (18.6 points per game) having picked up his fourth foul barely two minutes into the third quarter.
Eagles coach Bob Fredericks noted Gilbert Christian's struggles in a few games this season with losing leads or tensing up a bit in close games (a couple times against Valley Christian and in early-season tournaments).
"We felt at halftime we had an advantage, even down by one," he said.
Instead, Ranger (21 points on 9-of-11 shooting, including 3-for-3 from outside) and Reyes (16 points) led the final surge which pushed Gilbert Christian's lead to 56-47 with six minutes left. Ranger scored six consecutive points on tough, inside baskets, and then Reyes and Dylan Bliss helped push the lead to 63-50 with 3:40 left.
"That was big for us," Joseph said of his guards. "...We turned our pressure up a little."
Without Jones (8 of 14 points in the first quarter) on the floor for nearly all of the third quarter and half of the fourth, Scottsdale Christian again pulled inside single digits, but it was too late.
"The opportunity was there but we weren't able to stretch it out because of their good plays that were too much to overcome," Fredericks said.
The Eagles (21-8) got terrific games from guard Clay Crookham (13 points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals) and Jared Frame (15 points, four rebounds). Conner Segneri was the catalyst early to help bring SCA back from those early deficits with 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks.
But the Eagles were 3 of 14 from beyond the arc, and Gilbert Christian shot 62 percent in the second half.
Gilbert Christian 67, Scottsdale Christian 57
SCA 11 17 17 12 -- 57
GC 18 11 21 17 -- 67
SCA: Frame 15, Benefiel 2, Segneri 12, Sherman 8, Crookham 13, Sendra 5, Fillingame 2
GC: Jones 14, Reyes 16, Bliss 16, Ranger 21
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.