Four years ago, a talented freshmen class came together at Paradise Valley with visions of winning the boys basketball state championship.
But midway through this season — the one which was supposed to make that dream reality — it all seemed to be slipping away.
The Trojans were the preseason No. 1 and started the season 12-2, but a 3-3 stretch in late December and early January had the team at a crossroads.
After a series of meetings, everyone finally got on the same page, and it culminated in a 45-39 victory over Tucson Salpointe for the Division II title on Saturday at Jobing.com Arena.
Paul Watson had 20 points and five steals to lead the way, but it took a sitdown with coach Mark MacGowan shortly after a loss to Scottsdale Christian on Jan. 15 to keep the season from becoming an underachievement.
“We had at least three talks, and they were really good,” Watson said. “I got some stuff off my chest... and afterwards I sat down with the team and told them what we needed to do to win this (title).”
Paradise Valley won 11 of its last 13 games to capture the championship.
The Trojans fell behind Salpointe by six points early on, but used a 25-4 run between the first and second quarters to take control.
The Lancers gradually chipped away, pulling to within nine points at the half, seven after three quarters and four midway through the fourth, but Watson hit some big shots down the stretch and Paradise Valley held on.
The Trojans used a stingy 1-3-1 zone in the first half to stymie Salpointe and build the big lead.
“Defense wins championships, and I think it was our defense which won us this championship,” forward Ryan Finley said.
Finley, a quarterback who will play football at Boise State next season, added 13 points. Even though many standout athletes give up multiple sports in their high school careers, MacGowan said there was no doubt Finley would be on the hardwood for his senior season.
“He came in after his eighth grade year and basketball was his first love, believe it or not,” MacGowan said. “He decided at the last minute to play football. He’s a fantastic quarterback, great basketball player and a terrific person.”
Cam Denson led the Lancers with 18 points and five steals.
This is the first basketball title for the Trojans since 1997, and while it may not have been smooth sailing all the way through, Paradise Valley figured it out at the right time.
“That’s what I told the kids: ‘You want to be playing your best basketball in February,’” MacGowan said. “And I think that’s what we were doing.”
Paradise Valley 45, Salpointe Catholic 35
Salpointe 8 8 11 12 -- 39
Paradise Valley 16 9 9 11 -- 45
Salpointe: Denson 18, Juan 7, Lowry 6, Callaghan 4, Arzouman 2, Schannep 1, McEvoy 1.
Paradise Valley: Watson 20, Finley 13, Jacobs Jones 4, Euting 3, Walker 3, Walker 3, Brown 2.