GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Aztec Dynasty came to fruition.
Casey Benson, Corona del Sol
The game had two great players squaring off, referees consulting TV monitors to add suspense to the end of regulation, a player who hadn’t scored all game at line with the game on the line and what seemed like five winning sequences.
In the end the Aztecs secured the win when they put enough hands in the face of Pinnacle senior Dorian Pickens, who missed a game-winning attempt after getting the inbounds pass with 1.1 seconds left.
The ball missed left of the rim after two defenders flashed in front of the Stanford recruit.
“He is a great player and you don’t want to leave it up to a player like that,” Corona coach Sam Duane Jr. said. “We did enough to challenge it, and I finally felt like we had it.”
Duane’s sense of relief came after the Aztecs trailed by five with 4:30 minutes left, tied it on a Casey Benson 3-pointer and thought it had won in regulation when the Pioneers missed three shots on the final possession of regulation.
But there was a whistle.
There seems to always be a whistle in a epic battle and this one was no different. A foul was called on the Corona defense as the ball went in after the buzzer. After a consultation and a viewing of the video showed the basket came after the final buzzer, Pinnacle junior Ben Wahlberg was put on the line for two shots and 00.3 seconds left on the clock.
He hadn’t scored all game and the team trailed 61-60. Wahlberg made the first and was short on the second to send it into OT.
Corona (34-1) scored the first five and Pickens answered back with a 3-pointer and 3-point play.
The Aztecs, whose only loss came against Findlay Prep, had one more possession and Oregon recruit Benson cut to the basket for the lead and the eventual win before the final seconds played out on the other end.
“Casey is our leader, our soldier,” senior Connor MacDougall said. “He came through because that’s what he does.”
Pinnacle (23-10) lost a five-point lead with 4:30 minutes to go a year after watching a seven-point lead evaporate against Corona with just over 3 minutes remaining in the title game.
“The ball goes in sometimes, sometimes it doesn’t,” Pinnacle coach Charles Wilde said. “You have to be proud of this team. You can’t be upset if the ball doesn’t go in. We played like champions.”
No one more so than Pickens.
“It came down to the wire and we had our chances,” Pickens said. “We don’t have regrets. We wanted to win. This was our last games as seniors and we gave everything we had.”
Benson, who finished with 24, per usual found away to led the Aztecs to another championship.
“He refuses to lose; that’s his mentality,” Duane said. “When you have the character of a winner and a champion you have to like your chances with No. 15 on your side.”
The finish to Benson’s career – game-winning score for a third ring – couldn’t have ended better.
“It was a great game,” he said. “I can’t put it into words. I never thought it would end in three straight championships.”
Here is a look at the rest of the state title games:
No. 8 Shadow Mountain (29-3) notched the third state title in school history with a victory over the Eagles at Jobing.com Arena. Shadow Mountain previously won titles in 1996 and 2000. Mike Bibby was acting head coach officially on Saturday as head coach Jerry Connor was out of town for the funeral of a relative.
Shadow Mountain’s sophomore trio of Michael Bibby, JJ Rhymes and Carlos Johnson each scored in double figures by halftime Shadow Mountain (29-3) ran out to a 46-26 lead at intermission. Shadow Mountain maintained a large lead throughout the second half with no real threat of a comeback from Flagstaff (27-4).
Bibby finished with 27 points and eight assists, Johnson had 26 points and 11 rebounds and Rhymes chipped in with 17 points. Shadow Mountain shot 47 percent from the floor in the first half and used a 26-12 edge in the second period to break the game open. The Matadors for the game, made 52 percent of its shots.
Division IV boys
Arizona Lutheran Academy (Phoenix) 73, Scottsdale Preparatory Academy 65
Second-seeded Arizona Lutheran led by more than 20 points during the game, and saw Scottsdale Prep get as close as three (60-57) with 1:56 left in the game. Kris Lamberson hit six free throws in the remaining time and Eric Trevizo hit a pair of free throws to help turn back the tide.
Desert Vista didn’t start clicking until midway through the second quarter, but once it did it was curtains for upset-minded Westview.
No. 5 Desert Vista used a 39-11 advantage in the second and third quarters at Jobing.com Arena to crush No. 6 Westview for its first girls state championship game.
Westivew finished up 26-7, but couldn’t sustain the momentum of its emotional last-second win over Hamilton on Friday in the semifinals.
Desert Vista (30-2) found 6-foot-4, Cal-commit Kristine Anigwe with consistency in the second and third periods to blow the game open. Anigwe scored 11 points in the first half (nine in second period) and eight more in the third to put the game on ice. Anigwe finished with 25 points, 17 rebounds and three blocked shots. Nothing Anigwe made (11 of 15 shots) was outside of five feet save the three free throws she sank.
Division II girls
Seton Catholic (Chandler) 37, Cienega 30
Seton is always motivated to win a state girls basketball title, but it had more motivation than usual.
With ill assistant coach Tiffany Tate on its sideline celebrating her 31st birthday and waiting for a second, double-lung transplant donor, Seton rallied in the second half to defeat once-beaten Cienega at Jobing.com Arena.
It’s the fourth title in five years for Seton and truly was an emotional one. Seton used a 10-0 shutout of Cienega in the third period as its key to victory. Plenty of tears flowed from the winners, led by head coach Karen Self.
The team presented the title trophy to Tate, a former standout guard at Chandler High a little more than a decade ago as she joined the team for the net-cutting ceremony and was presented the title trophy by the team.
Seton prevailed with a senior-freshman combo in its lineup. Seniors Julia Barcello and Heather Heild finished their careers with three state titles in four years. Three freshman, two who started (Jennifer Wirth and Liz Holter) and one who played a key role off the bench (LeeAnne Wirth), were instrumental.
Fourth-seeded Gilbert Christian was shooting cold as an iceberg and the opponent, St. David, was considerably more accurate. No. 7 St. David led by 12 points at the end of three quarters.
Cassidy Curtner, a sophomore, took her team on her shoulders in the fourth quarter, scoring nine of her game-high 16 points and the Knights outscored St. David 16-2 and took home the trophy with at Tim’s Toyota Center.
Two free throws by Lauryn Satterwhite, one with 6.7 seconds left and the other with one tick remaining, put the Knights over the top.
With the score tied at 30, St. David inbounded the ball with 35.2 seconds left following a jump ball, but the ball went off a St. David player’s leg with 33.7 seconds left. Satterwhite then converted one free throw.
Another jump ball was called with 4.1 seconds left and the officials were going to award the ball to St. David before realizing that St. David had the ball on the previous possession. Gilbert Christian got the ball and Satterwhite was fouled, hitting one free throw with one second left.
Check for games and photos later. Jason P. Skoda, a former Arizona Republic and current Ahwatukee Foothill News staff writer, is a 19-year sports writing veteran. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 480-272-2449.