Right up to days before the Mesa Summer Prime Time Tournament tossed up the opening tip, organizers were still busy juggling entries.
Scottsdale’s Chaparral High School stepped in to replace Raymond S. Kellis High, a Glendale school, at the weekend basketball tournament.
The Firebirds, which had just six players on their last-minute roster, lost all four games it played and made little difference in the outcome.
But when the No. 1 seed, Westwind Prep, dropped out, it made a big difference. The Phoenix school was stunned to find out just last week that its head coach had moved on to help start a prep school basketball program in California without any notice, and the team also lost several key players.
That last-minute decision by the 2A state champions, which last year dominated high school basketball at every level, left the door open for Pinnacle (Phoenix) and Amphitheater (Tucson) high schools to slug it out for the tournament title.
Pinnacle jumped out to an early lead, but Amphi not only closed the gap by halftime, but actually took a one-point lead, 30-29. The rest of the game kept the crowd at Red Mountain High School in Mesa actively involved, as it went into overtime and came down to a couple of final free throws by Pinnacle’s Drew Bender to seal the 64-63 win.
Amphi’s Tim Derksen poured in 21 points in the losing effort, while the Pioneers were lead by Dorian Pickens and Kevin Bowman, who each contributed 14 points. Pickens is just a sophomore, but the shooting guard has already received an offer to play for Arizona State.
The loss of Westwind really leveled the playing field, as Pinnacle turned out to be the only team to go through the event undefeated. With the exception of Chaparral, all the others in the eight-team field finished with .500 records.
Chaparral’s 0-for-4 performance wasn’t indicative of the team’s potential this year, as was the case for many of those in the field since key players are often missing for some of these summer tournaments. Chaparral actually beat Pinnacle in the 5A-II state semi-finals last year and will be playing at the D-I level when the season starts again in November.
But Pinnacle came in at pretty much full strength and was able to give its supporting cast for next year some early playing time as it worked its way through the tourney.
In retrospect, it might have been interesting to see the Pioneers match up with Westwind – or what’s left of Westwind.