D-II hoops: Girls semifinal features ‘Battle of Underdogs’

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                </div>  The spotlight today belongs to the underdogs and over-achievers as the Division II girls’ basketball state tournament semifinals take the stage this afternoon at Grand Canyon University in west Phoenix. […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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The spotlight today belongs to the underdogs and over-achievers as the Division II girls’ basketball state tournament semifinals take the stage this afternoon at Grand Canyon University in west Phoenix.

After three rounds of play in Division I have gone pretty much as scripted, it’s a welcome bit of high drama to have two underdog teams in Division II battling it out for the right to play for this year’s state title.  No. 9-seeded Ironwood Ridge High School pulled off a huge upset win over top-seeded Cienega High to get to the semis, while the Nighthawks” opponent tonight will be No. 12 seed Maricopa High, which had to beat both No. 4 Flagstaff High and No. 5 Tucson High to unexpectedly show up for tonight’s semis.

The Division I quarterfinals played out pretty much as expected, with No. 1 Desert Vista High School and No. 2 Liberty High advancing to today’s semifinals, the two evening games at GCU.  Those two teams will be joined by a couple more high seeds,  No. 5 Millennium High School and No. 6 Dobson High.  No big surprises here.

Desert Vista, which is 29-3 and seemingly unstoppable this season, took out No. 8 Mesquite High, a team they had already beaten earlier this season by 22 points.  Desert Vista won this one by almost the same margin, 67-48. Millennium is the only in-state team to beat the Thunder this season and now the two teams will be matched up again in the semifinals – which has to be the featured re-match of the tournament.

Liberty could well be the team to face the winner of that side of the bracket.  The Lions are 28-3, have won 10 in a row, and lost just once in 19 games.  Tonight they play Dobson, which is 28-2 and deep at every position – and focused on avoiding a loss in the semis, which is where their season ended last year.

But the most interesting story line today will unfold in Division II in the final game of the afternoon, when Maricopa and Ironwood Ridge collide at 4:15. Both are coming off of stunning upset wins in Wednesday’s quarterfinals.

The one everyone is still talking about was the four-point win in overtime that Ironwood Ridge used to knock off No. 1 Cienega in a battle of the last two Tucson schools still standing.  Now Ironwood Ridge will move on to represent any chance for a southern Arizona school bringing home this year’s D-II title.

And, if Wednesday’s game is any indicator, the Nighthawks shouldn’t be counted out.  They’re a team with leadership – nine seniors on the roster – and played one of the best teams in the state straight up, even mounting a comeback late in the game to clear out a four-point deficit and take the game into overtime.  Cienega has won 30 games this season and no one has been able to beat them – until Ironwood Ridge accomplished the feat two days ago.

Ridge’s junior forward Lexy Ram led all scorers in the 47-43 victory, but senior forward Treyanna Clay wasn’t far off the pace, leading Cienega’s scorers with 17 points.

This I-Ridge team will also draw additional motivation as it tries to become the school’s first girls’ team to play for a state title.

In the other quarterfinal surprise, Maricopa used hard-nosed rebounding and solid shooting from behind the arc to shock fourth-seeded Flagstaff, 58-47.  Maricopa scored 24 of its points from three-point range and out-rebounded the Eagles 50-28.

Flagstaff High School took a double hit this week.  Its boys’ basketball team was also eliminated in the quarterfinals when it was unable to hold a late-game lead against Gilbert Christian, falling 56-53 to end its season.