By Air, it’s about 2,100 miles from Phoenix to New York City. That’s a long way to travel to play one basketball game – especially for a high school team.
In this case, two prep teams from Arizona made the trip to compete in the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals. Playing just one game in the Big Apple wasn’t the game plan for either team, but early exits turned out to be the disappointing end to a long journey.
Little more than two weeks ago, the Shadow Mountain High School boys’ basketball team and the Seton Catholic girls’ team were announced as participants in this year’s March 30 – April 1 basketball nationals, held at Christ the King High School in Queens.
It was a first appearance for Shadow Mountain, but for Seton it was a second chance to prove itself on a national stage; the Sentinels were beaten last year in the first round.
National rankings earned both teams a spot this time around, with Shadow Mountain ranked No. 10 and Seton No. 15 in the USA Today Super 25. But Seton’s record of winning state championships had a lot to do with its right to be competing at that level. The Sentinels have won three out of the last four state titles, including the 2017 championship, and nine overall – all under head coach Karen Self.
Unfortunately, getting a second chance at the national tournament didn’t fare much better than the first attempt last year. Seton struggled to pull itself out of a deep hole early, but wasn’t able to overcome No. 6 Miami Country Day and fell 55-48 to the top-seeded Spartans who went 29-1 this season and won the Florida 4A state title.
Seton (29-3) looked over-matched from the beginning, falling behind 15-2 by the close of the first quarter and was unable to close the gap, still behind by 12 going into halftime. A late resurgence – outscoring the Spartans 18-9 in the fourth – pulled Seton to within four points in the final minute, but a couple of free throws by Channise Lewis with 13.6 seconds left sealed the win for Miami Country Day.
The Sentinels won the battle of the boards, 31-27, but couldn’t keep the Spartans from inflicting pain from behind the arc. Miami added 21 points on three-pointers.
Sarah Barcello led the Sentinel offense with 21 points, followed by Lee Anne Wirth with 12.
By the time Seton was ready to take the floor for their 1 o’clock game on Friday afternoon, previously-unbeaten Shadow Mountain had already begun packing their bags for the trip back to Arizona. The Matadors, this year’s 4A state champion, played in the tournament’s opening game on Thursday, but were eliminated in a 74-61 loss to No. 8 Montverde Academy, another Florida school.
Like Seton, Shadow Mountain (27-1) suffered through an anemic first quarter as the Eagles took a 21-6 lead going into the second quarter. A 10-0 run gave the Matadors a 37-36 lead at the half, but it was short-lived as Montverde (25-4) began pulling away in the third quarter.
Domination on the boards (45-21) and an effective zone defense in the second half was enough to keep Shadow Mountain at arm’s length the rest of the way. Montverde, which has two 6’10” players and nine overall who are 6’7″ or taller, has owned the rebounding game all season long.
Sophomore guard Jovan Blacksher led the Shadow Mountain scoring, while back court partner senior Marcus Shaver added 19. Shaver and Jaelen House were the team’s top scorers this season, each averaging 22 points a game, but House wasn’t on the floor against Montverde. He was ejected from the state championship game, which required a one-game suspension.
The Matadors could have used his 22 points Thursday night.