From the first tip-off of the high school basketball season, the Corona del Sol High School boys were expected to win it all this year. And they didn’t disappoint, winning a fourth straight state championship on Saturday.
But that’s not the norm, which is what makes high school sports so interesting. With athletes at that age, anything can happen – and often does – on the road through the playoffs.
That was the case with the other three teams playing for a title in the state’s top two divisions. There wasn’t a single No. 1 seed even playing in the titles games that featured the girls teams in Division I and the boys and girls in Division II – and the six teams that were involved were seeded all the way from No. 2 to No. 12.
And, true to the unpredictable nature of prep sports, it was a No. 12 seed that won the girls D-II title.
In Division I, however, it was a couple of evenly-matched girls teams that took the court at Gila River Arena Monday to play for the state title, as No. 6 Dobson High School continued its playoff hold over No. 5 Millennium High. Dobson’s 58-49 victory in the title game follows the Mustangs’ defeat of Millennium in last year’s quarterfinals, and in the second round the year before.
But both schools put experienced teams on the floor this year, with Dobson playing with 10 seniors and Millennium relying on a core group of upperclassmen that included 13 juniors and seniors. And that leadership showed up in the stats, as Dobson’s senior guard Alexis Todd led all scorers with 20 points, and Millennium’s senior guard, Quynne Huggins, put up 19 points.
For awhile, it appeared Millennium (28-5) might finally put an end to the jinx. The Tigers used long-range shooting to jump out to a 10-point lead, held a nine-point advantage at the half, and still led by four going into the final period. But Dobson (30-2) began chipping away at the lead to start the fourth and, by the time the game clock worked its way down to the halfway point, had taken over the lead and held it the rest of the way.
For Millennium, it meant another year of frustration without a state title. This team posted four seasons of 20 or more wins, made it into the playoffs each year, but haven’t been able to bring home what would be the school’s first state title in girls basketball. In fact, this title match is the first time the girls’ team has advanced this far.
But Dobson’s win brings that Mesa school its second state girls’ title, the other coming in 2010.
In Division II… the story of the tournament belongs to the No. 12-seeded Maricopa High School girls’ team that upset defending champion Seton Catholic, the D-II basketball power in Chandler that has played in five title games in the last six years and has won three of the last four state championships.
And Maricopa (30-5) did it with a new coach. The Rams were 20-8 last year under Jennifer Miller, but Kati Burrows, an assistant at St. Mary’s High in Phoenix when that school was nationally-ranked and won three state titles, has taken the program to the next level.
Maricopa was clearly the better team in Monday night’s game, taking an early lead and holding it for almost the entire game. Seton had the height advantage, but Maricopa made up for that disadvantage with an aggressive defense that collected 37 rebounds, just three fewer than the much-taller Sentinels; recorded 14 steals; and picked up 22 points off turnovers.
Raegene Womack led the Rams’ attack with 15 points, while Tiara Edmond chipped in another 11 points. But Seton had the game’s high scorer in sophomore forward Jenn Wirth, who had 17 points to go with 12 rebounds. Sarah Barcello, a freshman guard, added 15 points and nine boards to the losing effort.
In the D-II boys’ game, there was another opportunity for a high seed to pull off a big upset. But No. 10 Arcadia High fell short, losing to No. 4 Gilbert Christian, 55-52.
And this one almost had one of those story-book endings after Arcadia managed to overcome a 32-20 deficit at halftime and then pushed the game into overtime. It would have been a David & Goliath story, since Gilbert Christian has won five state titles in nine years and most recently captured the 2012 and 2013 state titles when they still played in Division III.
To cap it all off, it would have been Arcadia’s first-ever boys’ state basketball title. The Titans (22-10) haven’t even played in a state championship game in more than 50 years.
But Gilbert Christian was buying none of that feel-good underdog stuff. The Knights (25-6) let Arcadia back in the game during regulation and a three-point shot by Connor Nichols with 18 second left forced the overtime. But Gilbert Christian took the lead back as soon as the extra period began and held off the Titans to nail down the victory.
Gilbert Christian’s Mitch Lightfoot finished with a team-high 15 points and teammate Cameron Satterwhite contributed 13 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. Nichols led all scorers with 20 points on 7-of-16 shooting and senior guard Jesus Bojorquez added 14.