Eagles reign over 2020 Arizona, edge Cowgirls for ninth gold ball trophy

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher girl’s basketball team proudly shows who the 2020 state champion is.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

PHOENIX – They ascended the temporarily placed ladder one by one in a venue known as ‘The Madhouse on McDowell.’ Each descended with their own individual souvenir strand of the championship game net to signify their season-long journey’s success. It would cap the 2020 season on a leap year.

The No. 3 Thatcher Eagles edged top seed Camp Verde 51-50 as the visiting team, leaving with the program’s ninth gold ball trophy Feb. 29.

“I expected us to be here at the start of the season,” first-year Thatcher head coach Dennis Griffin said, adding “if the girls learned what they needed to.”

In the final four minutes, he was having doubts they’d be able to pull it out.

“We weren’t shooting very well,” the former prep and collegiate student-athlete standout said. “We shot better (higher percentage) the weekend before against Phoenix Christian and Saint Johns.”

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Taya Baldwin ascends the ladder of success to cut her souvenir strand of the championship game net. She played the entire 32 minutes, contributed 12 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, three steals, and a lone turnover. The Thatcher senior was the recipient of the team’s initial Taya Baldwin Award nine days later at the school’s Winter Sports Award Banquet.

Two of the championship game starters were not on the roster until January. The Graham County girls went 7-4 in December, averaging a 47-43 (515-473) score per game or a 4-point margin; 14-0 in January and early February, averaging a 60-32 (840-448) score per game or a 28-point margin; 3-0 in the region tourney, averaging a 57-34 (172-103) score per game or a 23-point margin; and 3-0 in the state playoffs leading to the championship game, averaging a 61-40 (183-119) score per game or a 21-point margin.

Thatcher (16-2 seeding) ousted No. 10 Saint Johns (15-3) 49-38 during the semifinals in Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum Feb. 28 plus No. 6 San Carlos (17-1) 72-48 during the quarterfinals Feb. 22 and No. 14 Phoenix Christian (14-4) 62-33 during the Round of 16 Feb. 21, both in Prescott Valley’s Findlay Toyota Center.

Camp Verde (18-0) reached the final with wins of 56-49 in overtime over No. 12 Sanders Valley (14-5) during the semifinals in Phoenix plus 46-43 over No. 8 Pima (14-5) during the quarterfinals and 56-40 over No. 16 Eagar Round Valley (7-11) during the Round of 16, both on the Yavapai Community College campus.

But, Coach Griffin had the right people on the court, the ones he was confident could get the job done, and they did.

Thatcher – 51, Camp Verde – 50

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The Thatcher bench reacts to a second-half on-court play.

It came down to the closing minute of play. A 48-48 deadlock, the game’s eighth tie, was broken by junior Marleigh Nicholas’ field goal with 42 seconds remaining. Senior Taya Baldwin added a free throw 38 seconds later to account for the Eagles’ final point.

“I had struggled with free throws,” Baldwin said. “I had been told free throws could make a difference.”

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Junior Marleigh Nicholas missed her first three field-goal attempts before connecting on her fourth. It dropped through the net with 42 seconds remaining, broke a 48-48 deadlock, and gave the Eagles the lead for good.

She made one of two, and Camp Verde put back a missed shot attempt as the buzzer sounded to account for the final score.

For the game, the shooting percentages by 28-4 Thatcher were 28.8 percent (17-59) from the floor plus 80 percent (16-20) from the free-throw line compared to 39.6 percent (21-53 floor) plus 57.1 percent (4-7 line) by 29-3 Camp Verde. The Eagles had a 48-31 rebounding advantage and one more turnover (11-10) than the Cowgirls.

Officially, Nicholas contributed four points on 1-4 field goals plus 2-2 free throws, five rebounds, three assists, and no turnovers while playing 30 minutes. Baldwin had 12 points on 4-8 field goals (one of four 3-pointers) plus 3-4 free throws, 13 rebounds, three assists, three steals, three blocks, and a lone turnover in 32 minutes.

Junior Cassidy Wakefield notched a team-high 19 points on 6-20 field goals plus 7-7 free throws in addition to nine rebounds, four assists, and a steal in 31 minutes; junior Mia Carter had six points on 1-8 field goals plus 4-6 free throws, five rebounds, and a steal in 31 minutes; and sophomore Olivia Lunt had eight points, 10 rebounds, and a steal in 14 minutes.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Freshman reserve Ashlin Thompson contributed two points, two rebounds, an assist, and a steal while playing 21 minutes against Camp Verde.

Two freshmen reserves, Ashlyn Thompson and Haley Nicholas had the rest of the playing time. Thompson contributed two points on 1-6 field goals plus 0-1 free throws, two rebounds, an assist, and a steal in 21 minutes.

For Camp Verde, senior Jacy Findlay tossed in a game-high 24 points on 10-17 field goals (one of one 3-pointer) plus 3-4 free throws, 17 rebounds, six blocks, a steal, and a turnover during 30 minutes and senior Amanda Lozanilla had 14 points on 6-14 field goals (two of three 3-pointers), a rebound, three assists, and a steal in 31 minutes.

Sophomore Shelly Warfield had six points on 3-8 field goals plus 0-1 free throws, four rebounds, an assist, and a steal in 32 minutes; senior Tanna Decker had two points on 1-7 field goals (zero of one 3-pointer), and six assists in 21 minutes; and senior Lauren Ontiveros added a point on 0-6 field goals (zero of four 3-pointers) plus 1-2 free throws, three rebounds, an assist, a steal, and a block in 32 minutes.

Senior reserve Anna Peterson added three points on one of one 3-pointer, and a rebound in 13 minutes and sophomore reserve Addy Herrera-Caballero had a rebound, in a minute.

Camp Verde led 41-38 at the start of the fourth quarter. Thatcher led 13-12 following the opening quarter and 26-25 at halftime. The Eagles had double-digit scoring in all four quarters while Camp Verde did so in three.

The largest lead by either team was five points, Thatcher with 3:15 left in the first quarter and Camp Verde with 6:35 left in the third quarter.

Thatcher – 49, Saint Johns – 36

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Cassidy Wakefield netted 7-7 free throws as the Eagles connected on 16-20 against Camp Verde.

Thatcher’s shooting percentages were 39.1 (18-46) from the floor plus 52.9 (9-17) from the line compared to 21.7 (13-60 floor) plus 37.5 (6-16 line) by 27-7 Saint Johns. The Eagles had a 51-37 rebounding advantage but nine more (25-16) turnovers than Saint Johns.

The Eagles led 13-9 following the opening quarter, 22-16 at halftime, and 37-23 heading into the final eight minutes. Thatcher enjoyed its largest advantage, 14-points, with 37 seconds elapsed in the fourth quarter. Saint Johns’ largest lead was by two points with 1:16 left in the first quarter.

Officially, Wakefield netted a team-high 13 points on 4-10 field goals plus 5-6 free throws, 11 rebounds, four assists, and three steals in 25 minutes.

Baldwin contributed 12 points on 5-11 field goals (two of four 3-pointers) plus 0-2 free throws, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals, and three blocks in 32 minutes.

Carter had nine points on 3-7 field goals (zero of one 3-pointer) plus 3-4 free throws, eight rebounds, an assist, and a steal in 26 minutes.

Marleigh Nicholas contributed four points on 1-4 field goals plus 2-2 free throws, five rebounds, and three assists while playing 30 minutes.

Thompson had three points on 1-1 field goals plus 1-5 free throws, a rebound, an assist, and two steals in 19 minutes.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Sophomore Olivia Lunt goes up for two of her eight points against Camp Verde.

Reserve Lunt added six points, 10 rebounds, two blocks, and two turnovers in 23 minutes; senior Briley Miner had a rebound and a steal in two minutes, and senior Sariah Smith had a rebound in one minute.

For Saint Johns, senior Brooke Patterson tallied a game-high 14 points on 6-22 field goals (one of four 3-pointers) plus 1-5 free throws, seven rebounds, three assists, and four steals in 31 minutes.

Junior JoAnn Wahl had six points on 3-11 field goals (zero of one 3-pointer) plus 0-2 free throws, five rebounds, four steals, and two blocks in 30 minutes.

Sophomore Kinley Crosby had six points on 1-2 field goals (one of one 3-pointer) plus 3-4 free throws, four rebounds, an assist, and a steal in 17 minutes; senior Tachelle Johnson had five points on 2-6 field goals (one of two 3-pointers) plus 0-2 free throws, four rebounds, three assists, a steal, and a block in 21 minutes;  junior Anna Villa-Gomez went 0-7 from the floor, had seven rebounds, and five steals turnovers in 26 minutes.

Junior reserve Liberty Raban added five points on 1-8 field goals (one of four 3-pointers) plus 2-3 free throws, two rebounds, and a block in 19 minutes; sophomore Lizzie Farmer had a rebound, and two steals in 13 minutes; seniors Lindsey Raban and Christina Bushman along with sophomore Brooke Smith each had a minute of playing time.

Post-Season Journey

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: The prize 50 teams played the season to earn, the gold ball trophy, was displayed during the championship game.

Saint Johns upset No. 2 Bisbee 42-26 during the quarterfinals and No. 7 Gilbert Leading Edge (16-2) 33-29 during the Round of 16 while Sanders ousted No. 13 Whiteriver Alchesay (13-5) 70-59 during the quarterfinals and No. 5 Phoenix Valley Lutheran (17-2) 52-41 during the Round of 16.

Others eliminated in the Round of 16 were No. 11 Sedona Red Rock (11-7), 66-63 by San Carlos; No. 15 Morenci (7-9), 51-49 by Bisbee; No. 4 Phoenix Country Day School (17-1), 68-57 by Sanders and No. 9 Avondale Saint John Paul II Catholic (16-2), 48-38 by Pima. 

The play-in round had three upsets, lower seeds defeating higher seeds, No. 23 Eager Round Valley (7-11 seeding) 34-32 over No. 10 Globe (18-2), No. 19 Morenci (7-9) 62-58 over No. 14 Benson (9-8), and No. 16 Phoenix Christian (14-4) 43-29 over No. 12 Parker (13-5).

The other five higher-seeded teams prevailed, No. 9 Avondale Saint John Paul II Catholic 63-24 over No. 24 Scottsdale Prep (7-12), No. 11 Saint Johns (15-3) 67-32 over No. 22 Chandler Lincoln Prep (10-6), No. 12 Sedona Red Rock 48-40 over No. 21 Scottsdale Christian (10-8), No. 13 Sanders Valley 63-30 over No. 20 Glendale Prep (10-7), and No. 15 Whiteriver Alchesay 66-37 over No. 18 Phoenix Arizona Lutheran (13-6).

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