The 1989 Corona del Sol team was honored Saturday on the 25-year anniversary of its state championship. The 2014 team likely will enjoy similar recognition in 25 years.
And, oh, what memories the players will have.
Corona and Pinnacle offered a Division I championship game that outdid last year's meeting for drama and excitement, and the Aztecs prevailed once again. Behind a scoop shot from Casey Benson with 30 seconds left in overtime and one last defensive stand, Corona claimed its third straight state title with a 71-70 victory at Jobing.com Arena.
"I did not want to go home losing my final game ... it was a great game, one of the best I've ever played in," said Benson, the primarily carryover from Corona's previous two titles who had to integrate a pair of transfers (Conner MacDougall and Dane Kuiper) and a freshman phenom (Alex Barcello) into the rotation. "Being able to persevere and come back the way we did was just so great."
Mountain View (2005-07) and Phoenix Union (1958-61) are the only other programs to win three straight big-school state championships on the boys' side.
"This one was a little tougher because we took everyone's best shot from Day 1," Corona coach Sam Duane Jr. said. "We had to carry a target on our backs for 34 games and every night the guys responded.
"To say they were part of a three-peat and to be part of one of the best state championships ever, it's something they'll have for the rest of their lives. They way they gutted it was special and in 25 years hopefully they'll get back together."
The Aztecs, who outlasted Pinnacle for a four-point win in last year's title game, trailed by six midway through the fourth quarter this time around, but took a 60-58 lead on a Benson 3-pointer with 1:28 left in regulation. Corona again trailed in the waning seconds of regulation before Benson sank two free throws with 10 seconds left to put the Aztecs up 62-61.
That is when the drama meter was kicked up a notch.
Corona and its fans thought the game was over when Pinnacle missed two shots at a game-winner, but Ben Wahlberg was fouled as the buzzer sounded. Wahlberg's put-back was negated after the officials looked at TV replays, but the foul sent the junior to the free throw line with 0.3 seconds left.
"I thought we had won so I was at an all-time high," Benson said. "Then he gets two free throws and it's in his hands."
Wahlberg, who had not scored up to that point, rolled in the first free throw to tie the game after the long replay delay and then a Corona timeout to ice him. He came up short on the second.
"I was praying it was not an 'and-1,' because if it was we were done," Duane said. "With a 1-and-1 we had a chance.
"That's a tough situation to be in, and he's a good free throw shooter. We're just glad he missed."
Pinnacle again edged in front late in overtime before the left-handed Benson scored on a driving scoop shot with his right hand.
Benson finished with 24 points, including 11 in the fourth quarter and five more in overtime. The freshman Barcello had 15 points off the bench; MacDougall added 11 and Kuiper had 10.
Pinnacle's Dorian Pickens had 41 points, including key baskets both late in the fourth quarter and in overtime, but missed three shots on the Pioneers' final possession. The last was a fade away from just inside the top of the key at the buzzer that was off to the left.
"I had an open look at it but just couldn't get it to fall," said Pickens, who also missed the front end of a 1-and-1 situation with a half-minute left in regulation and his team ahead by one.
CORONA DEL SOL 71, PINNACLE 70 OT
Pinnacle 14 11 19 16 8 — 70
Corona 13 18 13 16 9 — 71
Pinnacle: Pickens 41, Ingram 19, Baker 3, Kenney 2, Gilbert 2, Griffin 2, Wahlberg 1.
Corona del Sol: Benson 24, Barcello 15, MacDougall 11, Kuiper 10, Peat 7, Givens 5, Davis 3.
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