For Head Coach Shawn Lytle and the Salt River High School Lady Eagles basketball team, the Division IV championship game couldn’t have been against a better team: their archrival, the Tempe Prep Knights. And their victory against the 2012 champions makes it that much sweeter, as the Lady Eagles were the runners-up to the Knights last season.
The road to the Division IV championship title game started out as a breeze for the Lady Eagles, who eliminated Valley Union, by a score of 21-54. Thereafter the journey became just that … a journey.
Coming off a huge win against Valley Union on February 16, the Lady Eagles found themselves playing a high tempo game against Rock Point, with both teams coming out and firing every chance they got. The Lady Eagles’ free-throw shooting helped build the lead early in the game, going 11-13 in the first half.
In the second half, the pace didn’t slow down as the Rock Point girls kept coming at the Lady Eagles with a defense switching back and forth from a full-court to a three-quarter defense. Because both teams were very aggressive on defense, fouls were no stranger; both teams quickly had key players fouling out of the game. After a timeout with only a few minutes left in the game, the Lady Eagles slowed the tempo of the game and remained in control until the final seconds, beating the Rock Point girls by a score of 58-51. No. 22 Briana Kewanwytewa led the team in points with 18, plus nine rebounds and two steals.
The next test for the Lady Eagles was on Friday, February 22, against Joseph City, a team that, in Coach Lytle’s opinion, should have been the No. 2 seed in the tournament. Although the game started out slowly, with both teams unable to find the basket, it was the Lady Eagles who started to fall behind, being out-rebounded by the taller Joseph City team. But a 3-pointer by Kewanwytewa, followed by a turnover and aggressive drive down the court by No. 10 Kishan Cooper, tied the game 17-17 just before the buzzer and fired up the crowd—and the Lady Eagles—going into the second half. In the third quarter, Joseph City came out with a full-court defense, causing a 6-0 run. Still unable to find the answer to the Joseph City height advantage, the Lady Eagles found themselves behind and two players down as No. 33 Rachel Cooper and No. 1 Samantha Hardy fouled out. The answer was Kishan Cooper. In what could have been her final game, she rose to the situation and began to drive the ball down the court, drawing fouls from her opponents. Another 3-pointer by Kewanwytewa with only five minutes left in the game created the momentum shift the Lady Eagles needed to take advantage of the Joseph City girls. Two free throws by No. 5, Enicia Flores ignited the crowd. Coach Lytle called a timeout, assuring the girls that they could win. “You can do this; believe in each other,” he said, pointing to his heart.
With less than a minute left in the game, Kishan Cooper was at the foul line again. Making her free throws, as most clutch players do, she scored the winning shot. The Lady Eagles held onto the ball and beat the Joseph City girls, 49-48
. The player of the game was Kishan Cooper, with 14 points. Flores’s two free throw shots were a huge contributing factor to the Lady Eagles win, Coach Lytle explains, “With all that pressure, Enicia came through big time for us, a lot of poise coming from the sophomore.”
The Lady Eagles advanced to the championship game, matching up against the Tempe Prep Knights, who were coming off a 46-30 win against Duncan.
The final game against the Knights was a long-awaited rematch for Coach Lytle and the Lady Eagles. As mentioned earlier, the Lady Eagles suffered four losses last season, three of them coming from the Lady Knights during the regular season. Their final loss was endured at the championship game last year by—who else—the Knights. But that was last season, and this season was much different—in fact, it was the exact opposite. The Knights were winless against the Lady Eagles in their three match-ups during the season (not including the championship game) and were beaten by an average of 7 points.
At the beginning of the 2013 Division IV championship game, all players shook hands and exchanged respect for one another. Both teams came out with an aggressive defense strategy. For the Lady Eagles, defending the Knights’ star shooter, No. 20 Camille Zimmerman, was one of the keys to victory. Coming into the game, Zimmerman had averaged 20 points a game, but the Lady Eagles impressively kept her to only 4 points in the first half. For most of the first half the Knights looked calm and collected, despite their star player not putting up impressive numbers. The score at the half was 14-12, with the Lady Eagles on top.
At the start of the second half, Zimmerman shook off her first-half blues and scored several points. Unable to contain the star, the Lady Eagles found themselves tied with the Knights at the end of the third quarter, 22-22.
With minor adjustments, and defense on both sides of the ball stepping up, the first points of the fourth quarter weren’t scored until 5:40 by Lady Eagles’ No. 22 Briana Kewanwytewa. In what seemed only a few seconds, more than two minutes of time escaped the clock and No. 33 Rachel Cooper fouled out of the game with the Lady Eagles up by two points. With offensive rebounding being dominated by the Knights, they closed the gap. After a timeout called by the Knights with 1:17 left in the game, the Knights put the ball in play, fired a shot, and No. 23 Lisa Dischinger took the rebound up, closing the gap by one point. After a foul shot made by Kishan Cooper, the Lady Eagles suffered a turnover with 25 seconds left in the game and up by 2 points. Coach Lytle called a timeout.
With 13 seconds left, No. 13 Maddie Ternyk pulled up, shot and scored, tying the game at 35-35. After a costly foul by the Knights, Kishan Cooper visited the foul line once again and put in both baskets with four seconds left. No. 24 for the Knights, Mikaela Robledo, pulled up for the jumper—missed—and No. 11 Joy Manuel of the Lady Eagles came down with the rebound to end the game, the final score 37-35.
In a match-up that couldn’t have waited much longer, the Lady Eagles captured their second title win with Coach Shawn Lytle in four years.