Top prep teams close out final weekend of holiday hoops

The final game of the 6th annual Challenge in Mesa turned out to be a disappointment for local high school basketball fans since it didn’t match up Arizona high schools – but a couple of earlier games in the four-day event offered some marque match-ups.

Tempe’s Corona del Sol High School made its way undefeated through the first three games of the tourney, generally considered the premier event for small schools because it involves some of the better teams in the state mixed with quality out-of-state schools.

Seven of the 16 teams in this year’s field were from out of state, up from the usual four.

And it was one of those interlopers, Pacific Hills, that won the final game – a game that would normally be played for the tourney championship, but VisitMesa doesn’t crown a champ.  The school from West Hollywood, Calif., was the only entrant to go undefeated through all four games and managed to overcome a 13-point deficit to beat Corona del Sol in the final game, 63-58.

Some consolation to Corona was the selection of its junior point guard, Casey Benson, as the tournament’s Outstanding Player.

But the games that drew the local interest included a couple of other top teams in the Phoenix Valley.

Pinnacle High School in Phoenix handed Gilbert Christian High, last year’s Division III state champ, its first loss of the year by burying 11 three-point attempts and running away to an 83-61 victory in the tournament opener for both teams.

The loss to Pinnacle ended a 30-game win streak for Gilbert Christian.

Both teams had four players in double figures.  For Pinnacle: Dorian Pickens (17 pts.), Trey Ingram (15), Drew Bender (14), and Lee Andari (10).  For Gilbert Christian: Sam Jones (20), Dylan Bliss (15), Keaton Ranger (12), and Roberto Reyes (10).

That win by Pinnacle set up the other prime-time game, as the two 3-0 teams, Pinnacle and Corona, met on Friday at Mountain View High School.  Fans were treated to a heated contest that was decided by just four points.

Benson and Cassius Peat each scored 20 points to lead Corona to the 69-65 win to give the Aztecs a shot at Pacific Hills in the tournament finale Saturday.  Both are part of a young, deep roster.  Benson is a junior guard and Peat is a sophomore forward.

Pinnacle, an over-achieving 9-5 team, had run up a 14-point lead in the third quarter but couldn’t hold off the defending Division I champion.  Corona won its 10th straight game by regaining the lead and then holding off a Pinnacle surge in the final minutes.  A pair of treys by Pickens pulled the Pioneers to within two at 64-62, but they couldn’t climb back on top.

Four local players were named to the all-tournament team: Benson, Peat, Dickens, and Payton Dastrup, a junior center from Mountain View.

Over in Tempe… there was another holiday tournament that brought together some of the best teams in the area.  Brophy Prep, the No. 5-ranked team in Division I, was upset by Highland High School, which won this year’s edition of the McClintock Holiday Shootout.

Brophy was the defending tournament champion, were 14-1 going into the event, and had a nine-game winning streak on the line.

But Highland, which had three players in double figures, pulled away from a 36-36 tie at the end of three quarters and went on to a 59-50 win for the title. Jake Toolson led the way with 17 points, Bryce Farrabee added 15, and Austin Witherill finished with 12 points.

Toolson also collected 11 rebounds and snagged three steals, but his contribution of seven free throws in the final minute of the game was what held off the Brophy surge.  The Broncos had cut a Highland lead to 52-50 when Tim Kempton hit two free throws with 45 seconds left, but that was as close as they came in the closing minute.

Kempton led all scorers with 20 points and Austin Hammond added 11 in the losing effort.

It’s hard to call this one an upset because Highland is now 12-3 on the season and has its own nine-game winning streak in progress.