Tim Salyer (23) tries to get the ball down low to a posting Dawson Pruszynski (12). Pima’s big man was unstoppable down low all night but Alchesay prevailed 61-56.
By Jon Johnson
PRESCOTT VALLEY – It was a fight to get there – the No. 2 Alchesay team actually had to push their bus through an icy intersection – and then the Falcons and the No. 11 Pima Roughriders then battled each other to see who would go on to face the No. 1 Scottsdale Christian Eagles in the state championship game Saturday.
Pima scored first and led 14-13 after the end of the first period. But the Roughriders fell back early in the second and couldn’t quite come back as the Falcons prevailed, 61-56, to return to the state championship game for the third straight year.
The teams went back-and-forth in the first period, with Alec Judd inspiring the Roughriders with hard drives. Dawson Pruszynski – 2A East Region Player of the Year – showed his skills by scoring two field goals down low and hitting Hayden Ashby for an assist when he was doubled.
Tim Salyer then hit the lane running and scored, and Pima’s defense held as Alchesay played for the final shot in the period. When the buzzer sounded, Pima was up, 14-13 after the first period of play.
The Falcons came out flying in the second period and came back to take a seven point lead with about 3:15 left to play as Pima’s only points in the first half of the period came on a pair of Pruszynski free throws. Pima would only score seven points – three of them coming on an and-1 play by Jake Whitaker – in the period and found themselves down by four at halftime, 25-21.
The Roughriders had plenty of good looks at the rim, but shots and put backs were just rolling out, while Alchesay hit a few shots and the scrappy Falcons fought for multiple offensive rebounds to give them second- and third-chance opportunities.
Both teams had players in foul trouble in the first half as Alchesay’s Malachai Harris had four fouls with 3:17 left to play in the half, and Whitaker had a fantom foul called on him for his third.
In the third, Alchesay went into a full-court press early on but Judd broke it each time with a drive and layup on the other end.
The Falcons then went on a run and Kellen Parrish scored inside and out and his 3-pointer with 4:57 left in the period gave Alchesay a 10-point lead, 36-26.
Pima came back behind its big man Pruszynski, who was unstoppable down low and scored a couple of times to cut it to 39-32. Well, Pruszynski was stoppable . . . by the referees, who called traveling on him twice when he appeared to actually be fouled and make the shot.
Judd and Salyer hit on two drives, and Alchesay again held for the final shot and missed. The teams then went into the final period with the Falcons up 41-36 over the Roughriders.
In the fourth, Pima rode their thoroughbred Pruszynski and fed him three straight times. Pruszynski responded with two and-1 plays and a third straight field goal. He would end up with a team-high 21 points on the night, followed up by Judd with 17.
However, Alchesay hit a long ball and still held on to a two-point lead, 46-44 with 5:17 left in the game.
Pima then went cold and didn’t score for nearly three minutes until Judd broke the spell with a tough running shot off the right side. By then, Alchesay had built up a lead to six points, 54-48 with 2:23 left in the game.
Big players rise up at big moments in big-time games, and so do the not so big players. Down six and with the Falcons triple teaming Pruzynski, the ball swung around the arc to the left side to Drew Thompson, who had not hit from there all game. Thompson cooly stroked his shot and brought Pima within three, 54-51.
However, after a defensive stop, Judd lost the ball and Alchesay had another possession. The Falcons then tried to hold the ball, and despite good trapping defense by Pima, the Roughriders had to settle for taking the foul.
On the next possession Judd again lost the ball and then fouled as well. It appeared that Judd felt that he was fouled and that is why he lost the ball.
The refs then inexplicably called yet another foul on Pima and a technical foul on Salyer. When it was all said and done, after cutting it to three points, Alchesay shot eight straight free throws to go up by 10 with mere seconds left in the game.
Pima kept fighting as they do, and Pruzynski had another assist to Whitaker, and Judd nailed a 3-pointer at the buzzer to finish the scoring on the night but Alchesay moved on, a 61-56 victor.
No. 2 Alchesay will now face No. 1 Scottsdale Christian in the 2A State Championship game at Highland High School in Gilbert, starting at 6 p.m.