Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Grant Ashby drives into the lane. The Roughriders came up just short against Scottsdale Christian in the semifinals on Saturday, 37-43.
By Jon Johnson
PHOENIX – The last two seasons the Pima Roughriders boys basketball team has come right up to the summit of state competition but just slipped prior to crossing it.
For the second season in a row, the Roughriders fell in the semifinals on Friday – this year to Scottsdale Christian 37-43, the highest remaining seed in the tournament.
Pima had beaten Scottsdale Christian at home 53-42 on Feb. 5, but this time the Roughriders would have to face the Eagles without starting point guard Coy Miller, who was injured in the Roughriders’ playoff win over Miami when he collided with the wall and dislocated his elbow.
On Friday, Leland Thompson stepped up in Miller’s place and played some gutsy defense. If Thompson ever left the game I must have missed when. It seemed as if he was on the court prior to the player announcements and was still there after the final horn. The kid showed his grit and had his hands full with dealing with Scottsdale’s Michael Fan all night, who tried to drive as much as he could and had some success on mid-range shots.
The Roughriders came out flat offensively, however, and couldn’t get the ball to go in the bucket until Seth Russell finally broke the ice with less than a minute left in the opening quarter. By then, Scottsdale Christian had amassed a 12-2 opening quarter lead.
Russell had a tough night. Not only did he have to deal with 6’8” senior center Braden Wales, but the help defense included 6’6” Hunter Wales and 6’6” Garrison Sherman. Pima has a lot of height too, especially for a public school, and while the boys banged inside, Russell was also hampered by early foul calls – several of them extremely suspect, as in they really shouldn’t have been called.
While not one to rail on the officiating, it is an absolute travesty in the manner in which the officials completely took Russell out of the game with his foul trouble. Granted he was having issues with the defensive pressure, but to shackle him in such a manner just gave the outcome less meaning in a way. Russell ended up having to leave in the third quarter due to picking up his fourth foul, and then was only in for a couple of minutes in the fourth before the referee – the same referee who made numerous calls against Pima that turned the ball back over to Scottsdale – called Russell for an inconsequential offensive foul while driving on the baseline. The defensive player wasn’t even moved off his spot. Contact was minimal at best. To call an offensive foul at that juncture was not only the incorrect call, it kicked out one of Pima’s best players and made them play even more down than when they started. But they never gave up.
That was evident during a second-quarter push when they went on a 12-1 run to tie the game up at 18 with 43 seconds left in the half. Garrett Curtis led the chargeback with a 3-pointer and some jumpers. Curtis would hit another 3 in the third and lead Pima with 15 points on the night. Thompson hit all 5 of his points in the second quarter and Pierce Ashby hit the first of two 3’s on the night in the quarter as well. He finished with 8 points. Other scorers for Pima included Grant Ashby with 6; Seth Russell with 2, and Wyatt Wiltbank with 1 point.
While Pima exploded for 18 points in the second quarter, it only managed 19 points for the rest of the game. However, the team had momentum and came out with the first four points of the third to have its first lead of the night. Unfortunately for the many Roughrider fans in attendance, it wouldn’t last.
Scottsdale went on a 10-0 run in the third quarter led by two Sherman 3’s to turn a 20-24 deficit into a 30-24 lead with 2:52 left in the third. Curtis answered back with a big 3 and another jumper to just give the slight edge to Scottsdale at the start of the fourth, 32-29. Sherman hit three 3’s on the night and 4-6 from the free-throw line in the fourth quarter for a shared team-high 13 points. Braden Wales also went for 13, including a crowd-pleasing dunk. Other scorers for Scottsdale Christian included Hunter Wales and Michael Fan with 7 points each, and Josiah Hearn with 3 points.
The Eagles’ defense then held Pima at bay just enough to amass a 6-point lead with time nearly gone. Pierce Ashby stepped up with ice in his veins and nailed a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left to cut the lead to 37-40, but the Eagles hit their free throws down the stretch and advanced to the title game on Saturday, 43-37.