In what ended up being their last test of the 2013-14 season, the Salt River High School Lady Eagles lost in the semifinals of the Division IV state basketball championships to the St. David Tigers, 41-36. Looking to win the school’s first back-to-back state championship titles, the Lady Eagles fell short by just one game, but they were successful in producing their second-best record for a season, racking up 30 wins and only 4 losses.
Here’s a recap on their journey to the finals.
Tempe Prep 47, Salt River 57
On Saturday, February 15, the Salt River High School Lady Eagles scored 57 points against the Tempe Prep Knights, who scored 47, in the sectional championship game at Scottsdale Christian Academy. The Lady Eagles won a tough game against the Knights that would bring them one step closer to the state championship games at the end of February.
Tempe Prep put points on the board during the first and second quarters, and the score was very close at times, but the Lady Eagles took over the game and went on to win.
The Lady Eagles are 28-3 overall and 10-0 in their section.
Lady Eagles silence the Coyotes
On February 22 at the Yavapai College gymnasium in Prescott, Salt River High School’s Lady Eagles silenced the Lady Coyotes from Arizona Lutheran Academy with a final score of 59-34 in the second round of the AIA Division IV girls basketball state finals.
Coming in as the No. 3 seed for the state tournament, the Lady Eagles looked to win back-to-back state championships for the first time in school history under the direction of 10-year head coach Shawn Lytle. Receiving a bye in the first round, the Lady Eagles showcased why they are among the best in the state.
From the start of the game, the Lady Eagles came out fired up, allowing only 6 points to be scored by the Lady Coyotes in the first quarter. But the Lady Coyotes made an adjustment in the second quarter, outscoring the Lady Eagles 17-9, taking advantage of the Lady Eagles being overly excited.
“We got too excited and forgot our assignments on defense. We were trapping in the wrong areas; we needed to calm down and just play our game and do what we do best,” said Lytle.
In the second half, the Lady Eagles did just that—played their game. Scoring their second highest number of points in a quarter, the Lady Eagles began to cruise by the Lady Coyotes. Before they knew it, 18 points behind at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Lady Coyotes looked lost as they could not find the net. Lady Eagle’s senior power forward, Rachel Cooper, led the team in steals with five, making it her third time this season. Turnover after turnover, the Lady Coyotes fell silent, scoring only 11 points in the second half. The final score was 34-59.
The Lady Eagles were one step closer to a repeat, looking confident going into the quarterfinals against a very good Phoenix Christian team averaging 55.6 points per game.
Senior guard Briana Kewanwytewa said, “It feels amazing to be back here,” when asked about defending their title.
The Lady Eagles offense was led by No. 21 Breana Allen with 15 points followed by Cooper who had 12 points.
Lady Eagles Finish Off the Lady Cougars
Another win for the Salt River High School Lady Eagles on February 27 as they defeated the Lady Cougars of Phoenix Christian High School at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. The win moved them one step closer to the AIA Division IV championship to defend their title.
The Lady Eagles went straight to work, wasting no time putting points on the board. But the Lady Cougars didn’t seem intimidated, keeping up with the fast-paced game and taking the lead on a few occasions. Turnovers and mental breakdowns kept both teams even, not allowing either one to pull away.
However, after a couple free throws by Briana Kewanwytewa, followed by a 3-pointer, the Lady Eagles got into their groove and began to pull away.
Desperation set in for the Lady Cougars in the fourth quarter, when turnovers and fouls were the only stats they could rack up.
In the end it was all Salt River, defeating their quarterfinal foe by a score of 54-45.
The Lady Eagles’ leading scorer, Ashley Lamovaya, had some difficulty finding the basket during the game. The Lady Cougars keying in on Lamovaya allowed more opportunities for the other Lady Eagles players to score, showing that it takes more than one or two people to play in the finals. Allen lead the team in points with 14, Joy Manuel tallied 10.
On the other side of the bracket, St. David defeated St. Gregory in their quarterfinal game, 35-29, setting up the semifinal between Salt River and St. David on February 28.
Final game: St. David
Pulling off a big upset against St. Gregory, the No. 2 seed in the tournament, the No. 7 Tigers from St. David had plenty of momentum stepping into Tim’s Toyota Center on February 28.
The Lady Eagles’ game was nothing less than physical. The Eagles’ leading scorer, Ashley Lomavaya, went down twice in the first quarter. “It was painful,” said Rachel Cooper about the game.
The Tigers took the lead in the first quarter, but the Lady Eagles made sure they weren’t too comfortable, as they kept nipping at their heels. But the Tigers outscored the Lady Eagles in the first half, 17-23. Missing key shots from under the basket and around the perimeter when they normally would go on a scoring streak of 6 points or more, the Lady Eagles struggled to find a groove that fit offensively. Rebounds seemed to fall in the hands of the Tigers, who capitalized on most opportunities.
With two minutes left in the game, the score was 35-37.
After a pair of turnovers and timeouts, the Lady Eagles looked to Briana Kewanwytewa at the foul line. She made one of her two shots, putting the score at 36-37.
After a missing a foul shot by a Tiger, Lomavaya came away with a steal, but another foul was called on the Eagles, giving the Tigers another opportunity to build their lead. Unable to find the basket, the Eagles watched the Tigers make three out of their four foul shots with only seconds left in the game, resulting in a final score of 36-41.
“The ball just didn’t bounce our way today,” said coach Shawn Lytle. “It wasn’t about if they had enough heart or anything like that. They played their butts off, they did all right things.
“We had a great season with 30 wins this year, the second most in school history. We almost beat one of the best teams in the state, Valley Christian (33-1). It was a great year; this loss doesn’t define us,” added Lytle.
“I was nervous; this was my last year [on the team], and I wanted to do well. The season went fast,” said Cooper.
“It’s really nerve racking,” explained a very upset Joy Manuel after the game.
“Everyone expects us to do better than before. When you’re here [at state], people put pressure on you, but when you’re defending your title, there’s even more pressure. It’s hard because you don’t want upset anybody.”
Scott Cooper, father of Rachel Cooper, said, “You always want to see your kid succeed. As long as you come out, do your best and leave it on the court, you can’t ask for more. I’m very proud of her.”
Cooper finished her last season with 725 points, 450 rebounds, 176 steals and 53 blocks. Manuel, concludes her career with 721 points, 558 rebounds, 325 steals and 17 blocks.
Keep a close eye on the following issue for a follow up story.
Au-Authm Action News Reporter, Richie Corrales contributed to this article.