This turned out to be a feel-good kind of season for the big-school high school basketball programs in Arizona. Both of the teams that nailed down the 6A Conference state championships last night were first-time winners.
That’s good for the kids, and good for the game. Parity increases interest in the games and encourages those programs that are still climbing the ladder.
Kudos to the Corona del Sol High School boys’ team that won four straight titles from 2012-2015, but rooting for a team that has never experienced the euphoria of raising the trophy brings a totally different set of emotions. There’s nothing like it.
Last night, Basha High School denied Corona the right to yet another boys’ championship with a 75-65 victory and claimed its first boys’ basketball crown. And the Valley Vista girls’ team brought home the first-ever girls’ hoops title for the Surprise school by taking down Millennium High School, 44-36.
The fact that Valley Vista (25-6) fell just a game short of playing in the finals last year made this win all the sweeter.
It was nice, too, that the girls’ finals didn’t pit the No. 1 seed against the No. 2 seed, which happens most often. This game was between No. 3 Valley Vista and No. 4 Millennium. Millennium defeated No. 1 Gilbert High in the semifinals, becoming the first Arizona team to beat the Tigers this season, and No. 10 Mountain Pointe High School upset No. 2 Hamilton High in the quarterfinals.
The girls’ game opened the evening’s competition at Grand Canyon University Arena and the West Valley teams kept the crowd involved down to the final minutes. Valley Vista held the lead most of the night, but Millennium pulled into the lead early in the fourth, and by the middle of the final frame, Millennium (24-8) was ahead by just a couple of buckets.
Valley’s junior back court proved too much to handle for the Tigers. Taylor Chavez, the 5’9″ shooting guard led the way with 17 points, and point guard Rysha Banner added 16 points and six assists. Ali Zelaya, Millennium’s 6’3″ forward, posted a double-double in the losing effort, netting 11 points and 14 rebounds.
The late game validated the seedings on the boys’ side of the playoffs, with No. 1 Corona meeting No. 2 Basha. But nationally-ranked Basha may have been the more motivated team after losing in last year’s semifinals and knowing they were on the verge of bringing home the Chandler school’s first boys’ basketball title – and the first boys’ title in any sport.
Basha (31-1) went undefeated until its final game of the regular season, when the Bears lost by a single basket to Perry High.
The Bears’ match-up in the finals with Corona has been brewing all season long. And last night’s game proved it was a contest worthy of being the final game of the season on the sport’s biggest stage.
It took a steady hand at the free-throw line in the final minute of the game to pull out the Basha win. The Bears were up nine points at the half, six points going into the fourth quarter, and were able to hold the lead the rest of the way to the 75-65 win.
Senior guard, Austin Picarello, kept Corona’s final push at arm’s length, dropping in five from the line during the final 48 seconds. Picarello was the right man for the job in that game; he canned nine of the 10 free-throw chances he got, all in the final three minutes.
Picarello finished with 11 points, but it was a couple of his teammates playing their last high-school game that did the damage on offense. Shooting guard Terrell Brown led the team’s scoring with 23 points that included three 3-pointers. Right behind was 6’5″ power forward Gabe McGlothan, who added 21 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, and three blocks.
But the game’s high scorer was in the Corona back court. Alex Barcello finished the game with 25 points and eight rebounds. The other half of the high-scoring guard tandem, Saben Lee, had 19 points and eight rebounds. Barcello has committed to play for University of Arizona next year and Lee is headed to Vanderbilt.
Corona finished this season 26-4 after losing in the quarterfinals last season. The Aztecs, who have won eight boys’ basketball state titles, have now been to the title game in five of the last six years.
But next year, Barcello and Lee will be gone. And Corona may have to move to the back of the line and wait its turn to get back to the Big Game.