Corona del Sol vs. Pinnacle sequel
Impressively, last year’s championship matchup between these two schools was trumped by this year’s. Overtime. Controversy. Star players showing why they are stars. Unsung Heroes. This one had it all. Seeking payback from last year’s nailbiting loss, Pinnacle led by six points midway through the fourth quarter, but Casey Benson again brought the Aztecs back, and Pinnacle’s putback at the buzzer which would have won the game was waved off because of a Corona foul before the shot. After much deliberation and review, Pinnacle was awarded two free throws with .3 seconds left, and Ben Wahlberg hit 1 of 2 to force OT. Benson (16 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime) and Dorian Pickens (41 points) were tremendous, and the Aztecs got some key plays late from Cassius Peat and Alex Barcello. Benson’s scoop shot with 30 seconds left in overtime gave Corona the lead and a final defensive stand in which Pinnacle missed its final three shots, which made Corona the third big-sized school in Arizona (Mountain View and Phoenix Union) to win three consecutive titles.
Desert Vista wins first championship
An elite team from the season’s tipoff, Desert Vista’s girls completed a remarkable transformation in the past 15 months. A program saddled with unhappiness made a coaching change in the middle of the 2012-2013 season, and despite an upswing to end last season, J’ontar Coleman again interviewed and pleaded for one year to show what the Thunder could do. That worked well. A top team from start to finish this season behind the returning core of Kristine Anigwe, Jahnae Martin, Emily Wolph and Mountain View-transfer Sabrina Haines, the Thunder lost twice all season, and shook off a miserable start to the Div. I championship game against Westview to steamroll the Knights and the 53-35 victory gave the program its first state championship in school history.
Seton Catholic wins one for 'Tiff
A fourth state championship in five years might become a blur to Seton Catholic, but not this year. Despite a lineup of 3-4 freshman starting or receiving regular playing time, the senior anchors of Julia Barcello, Heather Heild and Crystal Eze helped bring the youngens along while remaining a concensus No. 1 team in Division II all season. The Sentinels might not have required an emotional pull, but it happened anyway. While assistant coach Tiffany Tate battles cystic fibrosis and awaits a second double-lung transplant, the Sentinels gave her the golden ball on her 31st birthday with a 37-30 victory over Vail Cienega. The defense shut out Cienega in the third quarter to bring the Sentinels back, then freshman LeeAnne Wirth (double knee fracture, a fractured vertebra and a double fracture in her wrist in the past 15 months) scored on an in-bounds play, sister Jennifer hit two free throws and Barcello made two more, all in the final 90 seconds to preserve the win and tip off an emotional party.
'The Vest' leads Valley Christian
No East Valley school enjoyed more success in hoops than Chandler’s Division III school. A half-dozen seniors entered the boys program with much fanfare and expectations, but the Trojans kept knocking on the door without being let in. This time, however, Greg Haagsma’s team busted through. A year in which the local standard for the sweater vest is now the 11th basketball coach in Arizona to surpass 500 career wins (all at Valley Christian) was capped with the school’s first state title since 2007 thanks to Cory Kasperson’s career night of 24 points, along with Zach Wolf, TJ Widner and the younger Haagsma (Brandon). It helped smooth out what was a frustrating end to an otherwise brilliant, previously-undefeated season by Scott Timmer’s girls team. The Trojans won in blowout and close fashion, against better competition, with offense and defense to the tune of 33-0, but the formulas which worked for three consecutive months randomly disappeared on the girls against Fountain Hills in the championship game in the only loss this season.
Most teams are in trouble when the captain and four-year starter at point guard goes down with a season-ending knee injury to begin the second game of the season. Not Gilbert Christian. The Knights plugged in a freshman, played defense, rediscovered their footing a few times along the way, and staged a couple bigtime comebacks in the state tournament to win the Div. IV state championship and second title in four years. Freshman Lauryn Satterwhite became the team’s point guard after Colleen Young suffered torn ligaments during the Queen Creek tournament to begin the season, and Meg van Rijn, Alyssa Elias and Cassidy Curtner rallied the girls. All five of the team’s losses came against teams in higher divisions, and the Knights used a 13-2 run to end the game and erase a 12-point deficit in the fourth quarter to beat St. David, 32-30, and win the championship.
Buzzer-burned Pt. II
Tempe High’s boys earned the No. 2 seed in coach Tom Saltzstein’s first season, then staged a couple comebacks in the tournament to set up a semifinal meeting with Flagstaff. The Buffaloes trailed by 10 points at halftime but forged a tie late to force overtime, then again in the extra session and it appeared a second OT was coming. But 0.8 seconds were put back on the clock for the final possession of OT, enough time for Flagstaff to pull off a full-court connection between Conner Estes and Trevor Johnson to hit a game-winning shot. Tempe knew a “Hail Mary” play was coming, but despite the perplexity of how Flagstaff could have released the final shot in time, missed free throws and layups by the Buffaloes might have never put the outcome in question if converted.