Tonight’s 6A state championship basketball games have a tough act to follow after yesterday’s 5A finals.
The Mesquite High School girls played in the undercard game of the twin bill at Grand Canyon University Arena and won the school’s first-ever state team title in a girls’ sport, and in the late game the Sunnyslope High boys gave the packed-in crowd at GCU a heart-stopping victory in double overtime.
Mesquite’s 59-38 win over Sierra Linda High School, which opened just eight years ago, was not unexpected. Mesquite was considered the favorite to win this title since the opening game of the season and managed to navigate through a 32-game season with just one loss. That lone loss in the sixth game on the schedule was to Seton Catholic, which went on to win the 4A title three days ago.
It has been a season of total domination for Mesquite as the Wildcats rolled through the schedule with an average margin of victory more than 40 points. And when they got to the playoffs, they kicked it to another level, scoring 93 points in the opening game of the state tourney, beating Ironwood Ridge High School in the quarterfinals by scoring 102, and then punched their ticket to the championship game with a 72-49 romp over Chaparral High.
An earlier meeting between the two teams took a lot of the suspense away from the title-game match-up. Mesquite won the Jan. 9 game, 70-41.
And the Gilbert school really flexed its muscles late in December when it won the John Anderson bracket of the prestigious Nike Tournament of Champions, beating four out-of-state teams to finish undefeated.
There were no seniors in the starting line-up for Mesquite this season, but those on the floor had plenty of experience between high school and club ball in the off-season. The back court of Shaylee Gonzales and Lindsey VanAllen, considered perhaps the best in the state, say they’ve been playing together since they were eight years old. And the Mesquite coach has had her eye on them since that time. The Wildcats’ head coach, Candice Gonzales, is Shaylee’s mother.
Sierra Linda hung with the Wildcats for the first half, trailing by just three points at halftime, 28-25, and went into the fourth quarter down just 11. But Mesquite, which lost in last year’s D-I championship game to Hamilton High, went on a run that quickly put this game out of reach.
Gonzales scored a team-high 21 points and VanAllen added 20, but the workhorse in the paint was 6’1″ junior forward Lauren Gustin who had 12 points and 21 rebounds. Gustin and her freshman sister, Savannah, transferred in from Salem, Utah, in time to help the Wildcats to a title this season.
While Mesquite’s win had little drama once the game got into the third quarter, the second game, between Sunnyslope and Apollo High, offered plenty.
Sunnyslope (27-4) had already captured two state titles in boys’ basketball, but this one had to be the greatest challenge. And it turned out to be everything the teams’ fans had expected after the two teams battled to triple overtime in a Jan. 17 game in the regular season, and then met again two weeks before playoffs began in a game that was decided by just three points. Sunnyslope won both of those.
Last night’s double OT win for the 5A title made the three-game series between the two teams a sports story that will be re-told over and over. This one actually ended on the sound of a buzzer – but not before much discussion among the game officials.
When Holland Woods‘ game-winning shot went through the nets, it was finally decided that time had expired before the ball made it to the basket and Sunnyslope was awarded the 58-57 win, and the trophy, the school’s first in eight years.
Woods, the senior co-captain who plays point and shooting guard, scored 41 points to try to get the win for Apollo (26-4) in the earlier triple OT. He put up 33 points this time, and collected 96 altogether in the three games against the Vikings.
Talk about utter frustration. Almost 100 points and no wins to show for it.
It was Woods that gave the Hawks their final lead in last night’s game, making the score 57-56. But a pair of free throws by Sunnyslope’s junior guard Kyle Fischer with seven seconds left sealed the deal for the Vikes.
Fischer finished with 17 points and eight rebounds, while teammate Chris Orozco added 25 points for the Vikings.