Mesa Red Mountain girls basketball coach Martin Appel knew his Mountain Lions weren’t going to see the same Gilbert Highland squad they throttled by 31 points back on the last day of November.
He was right, too. The fortunate thing for Red Mountain is it lived to tell about it.
Red Mountain staved off Highland’s upset bid in the final quarter, hitting some big shots and a lot of free throws to take away a 62-50 victory over the Hawks in a 5A Division I state quarterfinal game at Red Mountain High School.
Red Mountain (24-6) advances to Thursday’s semifinals and will play Chandler High, which knocked off Phoenix Desert Vista 64-60 in another quarterfinal game Friday night. Highland closed its season 23-9.
Standout Kayla Pedersen was instrumental in the victory as usual. Pedersen, headed to Stanford next fall, poured in 28 points on a night she was selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American game next month in Louisville, Ky.
Pedersen connected on the only two field goals the Mountain Lions scored in the fourth period. Both were huge as they allowed Red Mountain to protect narrow leads in the final quarter. The Mountain Lions also slipped in some pressure tactics for the first time in the game in the final minutes and forced some big turnovers that finally gave them some breathing room so that free throw shooting could seal it.
“Our kids did exactly what I asked them to do and they competed this time,” Highland coach Miner Webster said, satisfied as much as one could be after a loss. “We were right there at the end. We needed more things to go our way. They didn’t happen the last few minutes.
“And having a player like Kayla down the stretch is huge. She hit some big shots. She has such a nice shot and good touch. We were in position to defend her, but she’s so tall and made them.”
Pedersen, who added 13 rebounds and four blocked shots, tallied Red Mountain’s last field goal with 4:18 left in the game that gave the Mountain Lions a 49-42 lead. That was their biggest lead since 34-25 midway through the third period that Highland managed to cut to 34-33 late in the quarter.
Highland committed just four turnovers the first three periods, but suffered a rash of miscues midway through the fourth that prevented it from challenging in the final four minutes. Red Mountain connected on 18 of 24 free throws in the final period.
“We knew Highland would come to play,” Appel said. “They’ve been playing with a lot of confidence lately, and that was a big difference in this time and the last time we played them. We didn’t shoot from outside as well as we have lately, but Kayla hit some big shots and we picked a good time to pressure them as it turned out. That gave us some separation.”
Guards Amanda Bartlett and Bonnie Barbee scored 11 points each to go with Pedersen’s 28. Kesley Schaeffer led Highland with 17 and Morgan Wohltman added 13.