Over the Christmas break, just before students returned for the second half of the school year, the Salt River High School boys’ varsity basketball team hosted the annual Salt River Shootout tournament.
The round-robin tournament began on January 3, with the Eagles playing Ajo to start. They defeated the Red Raiders with a punishing 50-32 final score. Forward Isaiah Manuel led the team in points with 20 and 11 rebounds. Later on in the day, the Eagles faced a mediocre Tonopah Valley Phoenix team that somehow was able to slip away with a 35-52 win. The Eagles were unable to find an answer to the Phoenix offense, trailing early in the first quarter and never recovering. Guard Robert Norris accounted for 13 points and two assists.
The following day, January 4, the Eagles started out their third game against the Stallions of Sequoia High in Mesa, trailing 18-12 in the first quarter. The Eagles’ fast-paced offense picked it up in the second quarter, after a few adjustments from head coach Dino Puccetti. From there the Eagles capitalized on turnovers, led by senior Robert Norris, acquiring five steals. Norris finished the game with a 71 field-goal percentage, his highest of the season thus far. Salt River got another win, with a final score of 59-44.
To conclude their tournament with a record of 2-2, the Eagles then fell to Santa Cruz Valley in a close match-up. Down 14 points in the final quarter, the Eagles came back to tie the game and take it into overtime. But it was the Dust Devils who eventually came out on top, with a final score of 57-53. Senior point guard John Hill led the Eagles with 15 points, followed by Robert Norris with 14. Each accounted for four assists.
Halfway through the season, the Eagles are still in the hunt to obtain a good seed for the sectional tournament. As of January 8, 2014, the Eagles are sitting at the No. 6 spot in their section and No. 17 overall in the AIA Division IV Boys Basketball. In order to be in the tournament the Eagles must be in the top four of their section. With a conference win, or two, and some power ranking blessings from AIA the Eagles still have a good shot at being in the tournament.
“I felt like we did well in the tournament, playing two division III schools and taking one of them to overtime. We had a short bench, 7 players and only 6 of them have had a lot of playing experience. As far as growth I really feel our seniors have stepped up and become not just better players but better leaders, especially John Hill and Robert Norris.
In conference play we are now 7-1 ranked in the top 20 for power rankings, so the goal is to continue to get better and hopefully win enough games to get us into the state tournament (the top 24 in power rankings get in). Our section is the toughest of all division 4 sections in my opinion so if we get into the tourney we are hopeful we can win a few games,” explained Coach Puccetti.