As this high-school basketball season progressed, it appeared increasingly that Corona del Sol High School could have just phoned it in this year and showed up to collect its state title trophy when March rolled around.
The Tempe school won the Hoophall West Invitational, a first-time tournament that featured some of the best teams from Arizona and several other states; scored 76 points to beat an 11-3 Mountain View High team in the showcase game of the VisitMesa.com Basketball Challenge; and then showed their ability to dominate by blowing past Shadow Mountain High School for a 79-52 victory in the marquee game of the MLK Classic.
Their only loss all season was in an ill-advised match-up with the high-school basketball factory called Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nevada. But no Arizona team could topple them.
However, when they arrived at Jobing.com Arena yesterday afternoon, they found a Pinnacle High School team that wasn’t going to concede anything. The No. 3-seeded Pioneers had beaten No. 2 Dobson High by 10 points in the semi-finals and were more than ready to try to avenge their four-point loss to Corona in last year’s championship game.
Pinnacle took the Aztecs to overtime before succumbing when Corona’s much-heralded University of Oregon-bound guard, Casey Benson, drove to the basket and deposited the winning points with 28 ticks left on the clock to give the Aztecs the thrilling 71-70 win.
Benson finished with 24 points, while Pinnacle countered with 41 points from its shooting guard, Dorian Pickens. The 6’5″ senior, who has committed to play next year at Stanford, also collected 10 rebounds and dished out four assists to cap an outstanding prep career in style.
This state title, Corona’s seventh for boys’ basketball, was special because it’s the third in a row, giving the Aztecs the distinction of being just the second big-school boys’ team to accomplish the feat in the last half-decade. Mountain View posted a three-peat during the 2007 season.
On the girls’ side of the finals, it was a little more complicated…
The No. 3 seed Liberty High School was shocked by No. 14 Chaparral High in a two-point loss in Liberty’s play-in game in the second round… No. 2 Mesquite High was upset by No. 10 Hamilton High in the quarterfinals… No. 4 Mountain Pointe High also went down in the quarters, losing by 16 points to No. 5 Desert Vista High… and top-seeded Dobson High didn’t get past the semi-finals, also losing to Desert Vista, 54-49.
That left a finals game between the No. 5 and No. 6 seeds, as Desert Vista met up with Westview High, which arrived at yesterday’s championship game on the wings of a buzzer-beater by Marissa Rincon in the semi-final game with Hamilton that ended the Huskies’ unexpected run to the semis.
It wasn’t surprising that Desert Vista was playing for the title. And it wasn’t even that surprising that they claimed the title in runaway fashion, beating Westview 53-37 to earn the school’s first-ever girls’ basketball state title.
Desert Vista went 30-2 this year and beat Dobson by 11 points to win the White Division of the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions during the holidays.
Both of Desert Vista’s losses came at the hands of Mesquite, which first beat the Thunder in late January when they were 19-0 and had defeated every opponent up to then by double digits. And it appeared for awhile that the two teams would get a re-match in the championship game – but Hamilton squashed that dream.
That would have probably been a better match-up, since Westview had no answer for the Thunder’s 6’4″ post, Kristine Anigwe, who scored almost all of her 25 points in the paints, collected 17 rebounds, and intimidated the Westview shooters with three blocked shots. The senior averaged 16 points a game this season and will be in a University of California uniform next season. Senior point guard Emily Wolph bowed out with 11 points.
It took Westview’s two top scorers to combine for as many points as Anigwe contributed to the Thunder win. Saylair Grandon scored 13 and added seven rebounds, while Renee Contreras closed out her senior season with 12 points.