When Chandler’s Seton Catholic High School jumped out to a 21-point lead in its opening game against St. Francis High School, the Sentinels looked every bit like a team that belonged in the top bracket of the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions. The Knights, the class A champions from Georgia, gradually whittled away at the lead, but Seton held on for its first win of the tourney, 48-43.
However, when the four-day event at Mesquite High School wrapped up on Thursday, the Sentinels landed in sixth place in the elite Joe Smith bracket, where the country’s power teams compete in the invitation-only event. Seton, which last season won its fifth state title in the last seven years, was the only Arizona team in that top bracket.
There were 14 in-state teams scattered throughout a field of 84 schools from around the country who have been coming to Arizona since 2001 to mix it up with top programs from other states and get a good look from the nearly 100 college recruiters who show up each year.
While sixth place doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment, that finish isn’t indicative of how well Seton played in the star-studded field of nationally-ranked teams.
Five points. That’s how close the Sentinels came to going 4-0.
After its opening win, Seton lost to Colorado’s Grandview High School when the Sentinels missed a couple of put-backs under the rim as the buzzer ended the game, dropping that game by two points, 44-42, and sending the Sentinels to the consolation bracket. A 48-36 victory over Long Beach Poly kept them in the game, but their final contest, for fifth place, against Centennial High from Las Vegas resulted in a three-point loss, 45-42.
California power CLOVIS WEST was the eventual winner in the Joe Smith, beating Miami’s Country Day, 67-45, in the title game. Had the Sentinels been able to stay out of the consolation bracket and gone on to win it this year it would have been the first time a local school accomplished the feat since St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix claimed the crown in 2011, the year they were also ranked the No. 1 high school team in the country.
But that didn’t mean Arizona wasn’t well represented. Mesquite High School won the John Anderson bracket by going undefeated, beating four out-of-state teams to win the title.
And their wins were decisive, for the most part. The Gilbert team beat Vanden High from Fairfield, Calif., in the opener, 80-55; beat California’s Mater Dei, 61-55 to get to the semis; and then notched a 65-41 victory against New York’s Christ the King to reach the title game against Incarnate Word, a St. Louis school.
Mesquite rode the hot hand of Shaylee Gonzales to pocket the final two wins as she scored a game-high 20 points against Christ the King and then duplicated the performance for another 20 in the title game. The junior point guard, who has committed to play for BYU when she graduates in 2018, was given the tournament’s Outstanding Player award.
It was Lauren Gustin, Mesquite’s 6’2″ junior post player, that took on the job of scoring 20 points in the opening win over Vanden.
In the Derril Kipp bracket, it was two Scottsdale schools playing in the final, with Chaparral High beating Desert Mountain High School, 46-42, for the title. Chaparral went undefeated through four games, while Desert Mountain’s only loss came in the title game.
The two bracket winners, Chaparral (11-3) and Mesquite (15-1), met in the first game of the season, with the Wildcats rolling to a 79-45 win. But if they meet again in the 5A playoffs at season’s end, Chaparral’s performance at the Nike TOC is a good indication that second meeting should be a lot more competitive.
(Photo: Nike TOC)