The only way the Corona del Sol-Pinnacle Division I boys title game could have ended better was for both teams to win. That's not how it works, but the way fans should feel after watching the duel of teams and soon-to-be Pac-12 players — Casey Benson (Corona) and Dorian Pickens (Pinnacle).
Benson had the last made shot of the two standouts — an aggressive drive to the hoop for two that gave Corona a 71-70 overtime win over Pinnacle in as good a game as one can see for a title at Jobing.com Arena.
The victory meant threepeat for Corona del Sol (33-1) and was the seventh in school history. The game was a rematch of last year''s title game, won by four by Corona. The sequel was every bit as good if not better.
Corona had control of the game at halftime, fell behind after a brilliant third period from Pinnacle and then rallied from six down in the fourth to gain a tie and send the contest to an extra four minutes. Pinnacle capped a solid season and great postseason with a 23-10 mark.
As for the Pac-12 bound Benson (Oregon) and Pickens (Stanford), here are the numbers from their finale. Pickens went off for 41 points, making 16 of 29 shots , grabbing 10 rebounds and handing out four assists. Pickens had offensive help from fellow senior Trey Ingram, who ended up tallying 19 points.
Benson, limited to seven points after three quarters, turned it on in the fourth and overtime for 17 points to wrap up his career with a 24-point outing. Those included several clutch shots, and of course, the game-winner with 27.4 seconds left.
“I just wanted to make a play for our team,” Benson said. “When we had the delay at the end I wanted it to be over and wanted it to be over. But when it went to overtime and even when we were down in the fourth quarter, noone thought it was over. The guys we're still saying we have chance.”
Pinnacle had chances for the winning basket in the final 27 seconds of overtime. Pickens got off a shot with under 10 seconds left that bounced off the rim. Wahlberg got a follow and missed, but Corona stepped on the endline with the ball giving it back to Pinnacle with 1.1 seconds left. Pickens got the inbounds pass, but his off-balance try fell short at the buzzer.
“We didn't quit and have an outstanding leader in No. 15 (Benson),” Corona del Sol coach Sam Duane Jr. said. “He willed us to this. The last two years this team just finds ways to win no matter what.”
There was some confusion with the ending of the game, when the clock read 0.3 seconds. Benson had made two free throws with 10.3 seconds left in regulation to put Corona up, 62-61. Pinnacle got possession and Pickens got off a shot that missed. Junior teammate Ben Wahlberg grabbed the rebound and got off a shot at the buzzer.
Initially it was thought Wahlberg's shot, which went in, was waived off because time had expired. What happened was a foul was called on Corona before Wahlberg put up his shot with 0.3 seconds left. After a 5-6 minute discussion between the officials and AIA Commissioner of Officials Gary Whelchel, the result was Wahlberg going to the line for two shots since Pinnacle was in the double bonus and trailing by one. Wahlberg made the first free throw and missed the second resulting in overtime tied at 62.
“The first thing I thought with the confusion was did we win or not,” Duane said. “Since it was a foul I at least thought we had a chance. We weren't done then. We;d gotten a reprieve.”
The overtime was vintage Benson and Pickens. Benson put up the first shot and missed, but freshman Alex Barcello (15 points) followed for a bucket. Pinnacle answered with Ty Griffin's bucket for a 64-64 tie with 2:52 left in OT.
Benson nailed a three with 2:17 left and two free throws by Dane Kuiper (10 points) put Corona up 69-64 and on the brink of that third straight title.
Then it was Pickens' time. Pickens sank a three with 1:38 left. On Corona's ensuing possession, the Aztecs ran some clock looking for a good shot or seeking a foul if time got short. Pickens, however, made a steal and went the length and scored, was fouled and made a three-point play with 46.7 seconds left. That put the Pioneers in front for the final time, 70-69 and Benson followed with the winner 19 seconds later.
“This team has been great all year and Dorian has been incredible, even more incredible in the playoffs,” Pinnacle coach Charlie Wilde said. “We had a six-point lead with four minutes left, but that's nothing against them. We had some shots that didn't go in late. You can't be upset if they don't go in. We played like champions.”
Pickens had Duane on pins and needles watching him in warm-ups and what he did against Corona in last year's title game.
“I have so much respect for him from playing him the last two years,” Duane said. “He's very smart and he doesn't talk trash. You see his game. It's going to be fun watching him from now on (college).”
Pickens was composed and cordial in defeat as he's been in victory after games throughout his career.
“It was a a great game,” Pickens said. “It was fun. I definitely believe we left it all on the court.”