Gilbert Highland and Tolleson won the 5A-I and 5A-II state girls basketball titles, respectively, last season, and if their play this week is any indication, they are digging in for their shot at repeating that feat.
The teams brought 5-0 records to Saturday night’s championship game of the 15th annual Highland Thanksgiving Tournament.
But on this night Tolleson brought more swagger and savvy to the court and came away with a 62-47 victory.
Tolleson’s Rebecca Woodberry, showing a tough offensive game inside and out, scored 21 points — 14 in the first half when the Wolverines took control and kept the retooling Hawks on their heels for all but the first period.
Woodberry earned tournament most valuable player honors for her effort the past five days. Woodberry scored 37 points in the semis earlier Saturday, including a tiebreaking three-point play with 17 seconds left in the game.
“They’re just a lot better than we are,” Highland coach Miner Webster said. “They came out with the attitude we’re better than you are and we’ll show you. And they did.”
Highland (5-1), which played very well in advancing to the title game with a 79-51 win over Mesa Dobson on Saturday morning, hung with Tolleson for a quarter.
The Hawks led by as many as six in the opening period (13-7), but Tolleson gradually pulled even by the end of the period at 16-16.
Tolleson (6-0), which blew a 25-point lead in the morning semifinal with Gilbert High but recovered for a 75-73 win, reeled off a 14-0 run to open the second period to take command. Woodberry scored seven points in the period, and the Wolverines made 5 of 6 free throws to cap brilliant first-half shooting from the free-throw line.
Tolleson was 14 of 15 from the line the first 16 minutes. Highland made just two field goals in the second period and didn’t score until the 1:35 mark of that quarter. Tolleson took a 33-20 lead to intermission.
“Some of our young kids really struggled tonight,” Webster said. “They saw a team that had a chip on its shoulder and played well. We have some experienced kids, but for the younger ones it was kind of like deer-in-the-headlights. It’s a great learning experience. We have a lot to work on.”
Highland did manage an early run at the start of the third period, slicing the lead to 33-25. Highland’s Shannon Jacobs, who led all scorers with 22 points, hit her fourth 3-pointer of the game to initiate the Hawks’ attempt at a comeback. Tolleson’s resolve showed at the end of Highland’s run when Woodberry had a basket waved off by an offensive foul.
On Highland’s next trip down the floor, Woodberry came up with a steal and headed up court with nothing but a basket on her mind. Instead of taking it the length she pulled up and buried a 3 to restore the lead to double digits.
Teammate D.J. Davis added a couple of 3-pointers in the third period and two more in the fourth as the Wolverines pumped up their lead to as many as 20 in the final period.
“We can’t ask for anything more from the experience we got from this tournament,” Tolleson coach Todd Nelson said. “We scrimmaged (Mesa) Mountain View a week and a half ago and got to play three more tough teams (Mesquite, Gilbert and Highland) from this side of town. That’s probably four of the top seven teams in the state. We came to this tournament to get tested and we did.”
Joining Woodberry on the all-tournament team were Tolleson teammates Syerra Davis and Kiara Moore; Highland’s Haley Vennard, Shannon Jacobs and Jenay Locke; Gilbert High’s Whitney Southerland, Ausha Cole and Justine Johnson; Chandler Seton’s Theresa Wirth and Kayla Bustos; Dobson’s Andrea Jones and Kameron Knutson; Phoenix Pinnacle’s Aley Rohde; Gilbert Mesquite’s Maylinn Smith; and Tucson’s ReTanya Newsome.