Entering the 2012 AIA Division IV State girls basketball tournament as the No. 13 seed, left the Salt River Lady Eagles with several tough bouts in front of them. After defeating the No. 20 seed Valley Lutheran team, Salt River battled against No. 4 Pima and defeated them 56-30 in overtime.
In the elite 8 the Lady Eagles were set to take on No. 5 Joy Christian at Tim’s Toyota Center in Prescott Valley. The Eagles jumped out to an early 4-13 lead on a pass from Joy Manuel to Rachel Cooper who hit the pull-up jumper with less than three minutes left in the first quarter. After a turnover by Salt River, Joy Christians Amanda Mork hit a three-point shot. Kishan Cooper found Rachel Cooper underneath the basket and on the Eagles next possession Kishan Cooper hit a turnaround jumper. Briana Kewanwytewa pulled down an offensive rebound and finished the first quarter with the 19-12 lead.
Kewanwytewa hit a big three-pointer to improve the Eagles lead to 11 points and on the next play Salt River forced a turnover by Joy Christian, but mishandled the ball on the other end of the court. On the next play, Leann Watchman gets a defensive rebound, but Kishan Cooper was blocked by Joy Christian and Mork scored for the Eagles, decreasing the deficit to nine points.
With 2:20 left to play in the first half, both teams were unable to find the basket and the score remained 26-15 until Kewanwytewa drove to the hoop for the points, followed by a drive from Alana Kempf of Joy to end the half 28-17.
Joy Christian started the third quarter with a steal by Kempf who hit a lay-up.
Kishan Cooper drove to the hoop on the other end, but was fouled. She was unable to put away her free throws, but the Lady Eagles scored after recovering a loose ball.
After a Salt River miss, Joy Christian’s Victoria Morin scored on a fast break and trailed by 12 points with less than four minutes left to play. Kempf hit a three point shot to bring the game within seven points 32-25. Kewanwytewa took a charge from Alana Kempf, but Joy Christian earned a steal and scored to trail by two points. Kishan kept the momentum going on a lay-up. But Alana Kempf put down a three point shot and was behind 34-33. On the Eagles next possession Watchman finished a basket with 1:38 left in the third quarter and the Salt River Eagles led at the end of three quarters 37-33.
Salt River continued to push in the fourth quarter and Rachel Cooper found Kewanwytewa underneath to increase their lead 39-33. Joy Christian turned the ball over and Celia Padilla-Hicks made a fast break down the court, driving to the basket, finishing with a turnaround jumper to increase their lead 41-33.
Kewanwytewa put away a lay-up and was fouled to increase the lead 44-33.
Salt River never looked back as they managed the game clock and moved the ball around the court very well, forcing Joy Christian to try to win the ball back. The Eagles held on to the lead and won the game 52-43.
Eagles head coach Shawn Lytle said his team was prepared for the game against Joy Christian.
“We came out ready to go. We woke up at 5:30 a.m. and ate breakfast as a team at 6 a.m. and then arrived to the arena at 7 a.m. We were locked in and ready to go and that is why we came out so well to start,” he explained.
The Lady Eagles showed great ball movement throughout the entire first half and in the second half, Joy Christian made some defensive changes, denying the ball to Kishan Cooper, but other Lady Eagle players stepped up and made an impact. Lytle said giving other players an opportunity is important.
“In a big time game, gaining experiences is important,” he said. “We were playing one of the better teams because we had such a low seeding and we have to go through top level teams like them and Pima. This proves the girls can step in and play and give them confidence so they are ready to go when we call on them.”
After the win over Joy Christian Lytle explained the goal for the Eagles was to win two more games. They did not celebrate as they knew the plan was to win two more and they were going to wait for that goal to be reached. Looking back at the game versus Joy Christian, Lytle said there was a point where the team started to lose a little mental toughness.
“No matter the situation or if we are tired, we have to keep our mental toughness. Your fatigue can go and you body can go, but your mind can never go,” he said in response to what the team needs to focus on for the next game.
Next Up…Tempe Prep
With the win over Joy Christian the Lady Eagles advanced to take on No. 1 seeded Tempe Prep on February 24. The Knights won the tip off to start the game and they never looked back.
After the first quarter of play, the Knights and Lady Eagles only produced 15 combined offensive points. During the break, Lytle communicated to his players the need to continue to move on the court and go get the ball. In the second quarter, the Eagles came out with a battle for a loose ball by Kierstan Timmons who was on the floor, but the possession arrow was in Tempe Prep’s favor.
Salt River did not score in the second quarter until there was 5:23 left to be played. Rachel Cooper earned her way to the line and hit two free throws to trail 21-9. Kewanwytewa hit a three-point shot with less than two minutes left on the clock and the scored remained 28-12 at the end of three.
Joy Manuel attacked the basket in the fourth quarter and was fouled, so Salt River inbounded the ball at the baseline. The ball was passed to Kewanwytewa who missed the shot, but Manuel earned the offensive rebound and was fouled. She executed on one of two shots and the Eagles trailed 31-13. With less than two minutes left in the game, Salt River’s Rebekka Briones entered the game. She hit a three-point shot on an inbounds play and the team trailed by 15 points. Lytle called a time out and with less than 40 seconds on the game clock, Briones hit another three-point shot and the team trailed 36-22. Tillie Miles added another three pointer, but the deficit was too much as the Eagles fell to Tempe Prep 38-25.
The Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and a number of the other 21 Arizona tribes showcased their respective tribal cultures. The Community shared traditional O’odham dances and, along with our sister tribes Ak-Chin Indian Community, Gila River Indian Community and Tohono O’odham Nation, demonstrated basket-making, pottery-making and more.
On Saturday, home-grown Arizona musicians Jerry Riopelle, Michelle Branch and the Gin Blossoms ended the first night of the celebration with a concert and fireworks show. On Sunday, the events continued.