Early-round play in the big-school divisions of the state high school basketball playoffs can be described pretty simply. It has been uneventful. Few surprises. No major upsets.
However, there are a few exceptions.
Probably the biggest story in the boys Division I opening round Thursday was the Mountain View (Mesa) High School win over Tucson’s Rincon High. The outcome wasn’t close; the margin of victory was 16 points. And it wasn’t an upset; the Toros were the No. 12 seed and Rincon came in at No. 21.
But the 66-50 victory was No. 775 for Mountain View coach, Gary Ernst. And that established him as the all-time winningest coach in the state.
The Toros, last season’s D-I state champions, jumped out to an early lead and went into halftime up 16 points, thanks to a balanced scoring attack. Camyn Boone led the charge with 16 total points, but Mitch Wallace contributed 15 and Payton Dastrup added 14 more.
Perry High School pulled off the only other victory that could legitimately be called an upset. The No. 23-seeded Pumas from Gilbert handled Phoenix’s North High, 63-53, not only beating the higher seed (No. 10), but winning by double digits.
Meanwhile, Division II play lacked any of the surprise upsets that so often go along with first-round play. The grudge match between Flagstaff High School and north-country neighbor, Bradshaw Mountain High, had the potential to be one of the most interesting games of the night. But it didn’t turn out that way.
Bradshaw, seeded No. 17, could have been one of the feel-good stories of the tournament. The Bears began the season with six straight losses before catching fire and winning 17 in a row.
A game against Flagstaff, seeded No. 16, was the sixth straight loss back in November and became the turning point that resulted in a 20-8 overall record for Bradshaw and a berth in the state tournament.
The Bears came back to beat Flagstaff at the end of January, so the playoff meeting was a chance to break the 1-1 deadlock.
But this game was all Flagstaff, as the Eagles led by 11 at the half and went on to a 54-36 win behind an aggressive defense that forced 11 turnovers and an offensive effort led by Callum Long‘s 13 points. The senior wing also contributed a team-high 11 rebounds.
On the girls’ side, they’re already through the second round, which was played last night.
The game between two East Valley teams proved to be the best of the night, as No. 12 Hamilton High in Chandler took Mesa’s Red Mountain High School, the No. 5 seed, to overtime before being able to move on to next Monday’s quarterfinals.
This 51-49 win not only validated the Huskies’ contention that they had deserved a higher seeding, but it also exacted revenge for two losses earlier in the season to Red Mountain.
And the close to this game had all the drama you look for in a playoff meeting of rival teams, as Hamilton’s Lauren Evans ignited the crowd with her layup as the fourth quarter closed to force the overtime.
Evans finished with 20 points and teammate Aliyah Dickson added 16. The pair combined for 15 points in the fourth quarter to help the Huskies climb out of an early second-half hole.
The boys’ games begin tonight at 7 p.m., as the field skinnies down for Wednesday’s quarterfinals at ASU.