Sights set on semifinals - East Valley Tribune: VarsityXtra

Sights set on semifinals

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Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2011 6:45 pm | Updated: 9:35 am, Fri Nov 18, 2011.

No one may have been rooting more for a Brophy victory last week than Desert Ridge.

Since Hamilton had taken care of nearly every other contender in the regular season, Brophy seemed to hold what little intrigue remained between the Huskies and their fourth consecutive state championship.

And if the Broncos were still alive on the other side of the bracket, maybe, just maybe, Hamilton would downplay its semifinal rematch against Desert Ridge and look forward to a possible matchup with Brophy in the title game. Instead, Basha upset the Broncos in the quarterfinals, and now all three teams left in Division I have been soundly beaten by Hamilton in the regular season.

"If Brophy would have won, I'd say absolutely, there would be a chance to overlook us," Desert Ridge coach Jeremy Hathcock said. "There's not going to be any overlook now. As far as (Hamilton) is concerned, this is their state championship game, too."

The merits of the semifinals being a "trap" game can be debated.

Basha coach Bernie Busken thinks it's real. He coached Mountain View during its dynasty years, and knows how fleeting the mind of a teenager can be.

"Sometimes you get dreaming about being in the big house and you forget how to play," Busken said.

Hamilton coach Steve Belles hasn't seen it from his team. The Huskies lost to Brophy in the semifinals in 2007, but that team had chemistry issues and was regressing as the season moved forward.

"They were the better team that night," Belles said. "I think, if anything, we've played really well in the semis."

Either way, the chances that any of the big-time favorites - Hamilton, Chaparral and Saguaro - look past this semifinal matchup seem slim, namely because this could be the toughest test of the postseason for each of them.

The Huskies defeated Desert Ridge 28-6 in the regular season, but the margin was eight points in the fourth quarter, and the Jaguars have enough playmakers on offense and a sound enough defense to worry Hamilton.

Chaparral faces off with Peoria Centennial, and despite a regular season loss to Deer Valley, the Coyotes have always been looked to as the Firebirds' main competition. Centennial rules the West Valley and was the dominant program in 5A-II before Chaparral joined. The Coyotes won three straight titles from 2006-08, while the Firebirds have won the past two. Chaparral defeated Centennial, 32-17, in last year's championship game.

Saguaro faces a Tucson Sabino team that has the top overall seed and gets to play at a neutral field in Tucson. Sabino is the only team to beat Saguaro in the postseason since coach John Sanders took over the program in 2007. Sabino knocked off Saguaro in the 2009 semifinals before losing to Oro Valley Canyon del Oro in the 4A-I championship game.

Furthermore, Saguaro has beaten both potential championship game opponents - Glendale Cactus and Arcadia - by at least 35 points apiece.

"I know these are still young kids, but I'd be in great hopes that they would understand the level of importance of this game and not look forward to anybody," Sanders said.

This is bad news for Desert Ridge, Centennial and Sabino.

There has been little drama so far this season, as Hamilton, Chaparral and Saguaro are undefeated against its respective divisions, with all but two of the games - Hamilton against Chandler and Chaparral versus Salpointe - finishing as double-digit margins.

"I'm not going to lie, nobody wants to play the big dog early," Hathcock said. "But it is what it is, and here we are."

Basha pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the playoffs by knocking out Brophy in the second round, but a shocker would be if one of the Big Three went down.

This week would be the best shot, because both Hamilton and Saguaro have already pummeled both teams in the other side of the bracket, and most believe Centennial has more talent than either Cienega or Ironwood Ridge, the other two teams alive in Division II.

But if it's going to happen, it seems like the upset won't be cheap.

"I don't think we're going to be looking ahead to anybody," Belles said. "As a matter of fact, I know we're not. I don't think we've said one word about Desert Vista or Basha. This is where we're at."

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