Being not only a gym rat but the coach's son, Brandon Haagsma spent a lot of time around Valley Christian's boys basketball championship teams growing up: 2002, 2003, 2006 and 2007.
He even held the trophy a couple times as a youngen.
On Saturday, the junior guard helped give these Trojans a chance to hold one of their own.
Haagsma hit a key 3-pointer, came up with a steal and hit two free throws in the final two minutes to negate a Snowflake comeback, and No. 9 Valley Christian squeaked out a 61-55 win in the Division III boys basketball state tournament semifinals on Friday night at Jobing.com Arena.
The Trojans will face No. 2 Gilbert Christian for a fourth time this season on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Jobing.com Arena for the championship. Gilbert Christian won the three previous matchups this season, but each was in close fashion.
A second-half team most of the season, and one which has struggled shooting overall in the past month, the Trojans (22-9) were again cold from beyond the arc (7 of 26), were outrebounded (41-30) and struggled to contain Snowflake guard Chase Walden in the second half.
But this time, it was better defense, Haagsma and T.J. Widner who all came to the rescue in closing time.
"Somehow we find a stretch where we can't miss, or play harder defense than normal," Brandon said. "We've been a second-half team all year. We just wanted one more shot (at Gilbert Christian)."
His 3-pointer re-claimed the lead for Valley Christian at 57-55.
"We absolutely needed it," he said. "...A shooter's mentality means never thinking about missing."
Then the Trojans committed a turnover on their ensuing possession, but Haagsma stepped in front of a long outlet pass to give Valley Christian the ball back which forced No. 4 Snowflake into foul-mode.
He hit a couple free throws after being followed for a 59-55 lead.
"It's great to see as a coach and a father," Trojans coach Greg Haagsma said.
Widner led all scorers with 21 points inside, along with seven rebounds and three blocks. Haagsma finished with 15 points despite a tough overall shooting night (and a head cold), but also had nine rebounds, nine assists and five steals. Colton Gentry and Brock Temple also made key contributions in the second half.
Walden scored 16 of his 19 points in the second half as Snowflake erased an early deficit and took the lead a couple times in the third and fourth quarters after it once trailed 42-30 midway through the third quarter. Reggie Petersen scored 20 with 12 rebounds inside for Snowflake.
Snowflake had chances late but a couple turnovers and a couple missed shots led to necessary fouling.
Having another chance to play Gilbert Christian - "a very elite, special group of athletes," according to Greg Haagsma - was a popular chorus line in Valley Christian's celebratory locker room.
The elder Haagsma noted his school's gym has walls with championships on one side and runner-up finishes on another.
"Our motto coming into this game was to put one on the wall," he said. "Saturday night it's our job to get it on the right wall."
Valley Christian 61, Snowflake 55
Snowflake 19 5 17 14 - 55
Valley Christ. 15 10 20 16 - 61
Snowflake: Tanner 4, Petersen 20, Merrell 7, Walden 19, Shumway 3, Brimhall 2
Valley Christian: Mauer 1, Widner 21, Chavez 5, Gentry 7, Haagsma 15, Temple 6, Wolf 2, Timmer 4
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.