03/05 - Tigers boys hold off Thunder, claim crown - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

03/05 - Tigers boys hold off Thunder, claim crown

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Posted: Tuesday, March 4, 2003 10:36 pm | Updated: 2:15 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Someday, Ryan Toolson will come down.

The high he is on right now can't last forever. But the Gilbert High School senior will milk it as long as he can.

Toolson and the rest of the Tigers won the school's first state basketball championship since 1985 on Tuesday with a 56-51 victory over Desert Vista at America West Arena.

“I'm floating on clouds right now,'' Toolson said.

Very few events bring out the extreme in emotions like a high school championship. Tigers were looking for anyone and everyone to hug and join the celebration. Then there was the despair of coming so close and losing.

Desert Vista's Travis Gabbidon, who almost rallied his team in the final two minutes, slammed his fists into the padded scoring table and then started to sob.

In front of 7,145 fans it was a moment neither Toolson or Gabbidon will forget. Toolson was so anxious for the game he couldn't stand the four-day layoff between the semifinals and finals.

“It was horrible,'' Toolson. “I wanted to play last Thursday.''

Coming off a 40-point performance against Phoenix Trevor Browne in last week's 5A semifinals, the 6-foot-3 Toolson scored 22 points including a 5-of-6 effort from the free-throw line in the final two minutes.

Tommy Hambicki added 15 points and Mike Grothaus nine for the state champions.

“Individually we're OK, we're not great,'' Gilbert coach Tom Bennett said. “Together we're pretty good.''

Gilbert (30-3) began the fourth quarter trailing the Thunder (a relatively new school looking for its first state basketball title), 37-35.

It couldn't have been a better start to the final eight minutes for the Tigers who got a free throw from Arturo Donzella, a basket by Grothaus and a 3-pointer by Hambicki.

While Gilbert was scoring six straight points, Desert Vista (28-5) turned the ball over on each of its first four possessions of the final quarter.

Hambicki's 3-pointer put the Tigers up, 41-37, with 5:45 left. It was answered by a Chris Merino 3-pointer for the Thunder, which cut the lead to one point. He led the Desert Vista with 12 points, all on 3-pointers. Hambicki then hit another 3-pointer. Clint Polk, who had 11 points, answered that with a trey. Then it was Toolson's turn to knock down a 3-pointer that put Gilbert up, 49-43, with 2:50 to play.

But with Merino shooting the way he was, no lead was safe.

After two free throws by Hambicki, Merino hit another bomb and after the 3-point barrage by both teams was over, Gilbert led, 50-46, with two minutes to go.

Trailing 52-46, Gabbidon scored five straight points for the Thunder who trailed, 52-51, with 51 seconds to play. Gilbert immediately turned the basketball over and fouled Thunder forward Xavier Kilby.

It was Kilby's poor free-throw shooting that nearly cost Desert Vista the game in the semifinals against Highland on Thursday, he missed his only attempt of the night with 48 seconds to play. “I think we just ran out of time,'' Desert Vista coach Al Merino said. “Too bad it wasn't a nine-minute quarter.''

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[Stats Courtesy of MaxPreps]