Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Tim Salyer looks for an open teammate on a drive to the bucket. Rancho Solano Prep defeated Pima in the state semifinals on Friday, 53-42.
By Jon Johnson
SCOTTSDALE – After fighting through a year of adversity, the Pima boys basketball program left it all on the court Friday night as they battled Rancho Solano Prep for a spot in the 2A Boys State Basketball Championship.
The game was a close contest throughout, however Rancho made a couple more plays down the stretch and punched its ticket to the championship game with 53-42 victory. Rancho will face No. 1 Scottsdale Prep for the title on Saturday.
“I talked to the guys before the game and I said ‘listen, whatever happens happens, but let’s make sure we leave it all out there on the floor (and) we play as hard as we can,'” said Pima head coach Cliff Thompson. “You really want to win but it’s not as much about winning as it is about playing as hard as you can doing the best you can, and I feel like we did.”
Rancho came out strong and took an early lead, 9-2, by getting the ball to the rim. The second half of the first quarter was all Pima, however, and the Roughriders went on an 8-0 run sparked by a 3-pointer by Kaleb Blair to end the quarter up, 10-9.
Pima maintained its lead through the second quarter by playing staunch defense getting to the rim on offense. Tim Salyer (8 points) attacked frequently and had a big rebound put back, while Grant Ashby continued to amaze by taking 6’7″ Michael Dienes off the dribble and hitting big shots. While Ashby would foul out with about four minutes left in the game, he still led the Roughriders with 10 points on the night. Pima enjoyed a 21-17 lead heading into the break at halftime.
The third quarter was a different story. Rancho came out pressing hard and caused some turnovers that led to quick points for Dienes (14 points) and guard Noe Vargas and a 12-point run for the Mustangs. Vargas would lead all scorers on the night with 25 points by shooting 90 percent from the field (including 1-1 from 3-point) and hitting all of his free throw attempts (6-6).
The Roughriders were still playing hard and driving to the rim, however, the Mustangs began to get some offensive foul calls against them, negating scores and turning the ball over. Pima came back, however, and went on an 8-0 run through tough play by Jacob Brimhall, Trett Wiltbank, the aforementioned Ashby, strong play down low by sophomore Seth Russell, and another 3-point bomb by Blair. By the end of the quarter, Rancho was still in the lead but it had dwindled to just four points, 42-38.
Pima remained within striking distance for most of the fourth, but then Rancho played the delay game to perfection as they moved the ball around and around killing minutes off the clock. At the end of the round robin, a wide-open Dienes hit a wide-open dagger from 3-point land and that was essentially the backbreaker.
“I think we played extremely hard,” Thompson said. “Some things didn’t fall our way and that happens sometimes. But I’m really proud of my seniors, and really the whole team. This was a fun team to coach. (They) didn’t give us much trouble as far as attitudes or anything like that. They’re all a bunch of really good kids.”
Pima was forced to foul late (there is no shot clock in high school basketball) and Rancho made hay from the foul line to push its margin of victory to 53-42.
The boys never stopped playing hard, however, all the way down to the last buzzer. Coming out of the locker room afterward with their emotions on their sleeves, they were comforted by their parents and fans who waited patiently to see them and congratulate them on their season.