On Tuesday, February 19th I traveled to Wells Fargo Arena (ASU) and watched the third game of the day for the Elite-8 playoffs for the Division-I state tournament, which featured the #2 seed Cesar Chavez Champions versus the #23 seed Mountain Ridge Mountain Lions.
On paper this game was supposed to be a blow out, but Mountain Ridge had upset #10 Mountain View and #7 Hamilton to make it to the Elite 8.
6-foot-1 senior wing DJ Nunez started it off with a lay-up, followed by 5-foot-9 senior guard Tanner Waldrip, who hit a deep 3-ball to start a surprising 5 to 0 lead for Ridge. Then Waldrip and Nunez scored again for a 9-1 lead for Ridge.
Chavez 5-foot-10 senior guard Charles Freeman made the first field-goal for a deep 3-pointer, followed by 5-foot-10 sophomore guard Thomas Smith, who scored an “and-1,” and then a deep 3-ball from 6-foot-3 junior forward Jamarius Claiborne - capping off a 9-0 run for Chavez and a 10 to 9 lead.
Ridge's 6-foot-3 senior wing Jay Hartgraves made a lay-up, followed by an “and-1 for Waldrip for a 14-10 lead for Ridge.
Chavez 6-foot-3 senior forward Eder Herrera made an impressive lay-up from a nice feed by Holt, followed by a Waldrip floater for a 16 to 14 lead for Ridge.
Then Ridge's 6-foot-3 senior guard David Taylor got into the act and hit a baby hook, followed by a jumper by DJ Nunez and two free throws for a 22-16 lead for Ridge. Ridge 6-foot-5 senior forward Darren Mills made a beautiful jumper for a 24-16 surprising game lead.
Chavez would then claw itself back into the game and go on a 16 to 11 mini run, led by Tyler Bell to close out the half for a 35 to 32 Ridge halftime lead.
At the half, Waldrip finished with 13 points, while DJ Nunez contributed 10 points for Mountain Ridge. Tyler Bell had 9 points for Chavez.
The third quarter started and the big underdogs were feeling pretty good about themselves, as Mills banked a 3-point shot to start the second half, followed by 6-foot-4 senior forward Drew Eberth driving for a lay-up from a nice feed by Mills for a 40-32 lead for Ridge.
Then 5-foot-10 senior guard Jesse Salazar made a fancy lay-up for a 40-34 lead for Ridge. Mountain Ridge would then go on a 4-0 run to take a 44 to 34 lead, which had the Mountain Lions' section going crazy and everyone in the building stunned on this possible upset.
Chavez's Claiborne would stop the run and score two points, followed by a Will Holt tip-in to make it a 44-38 lead for Ridge, with momentum shifting for Chavez.
Mills and Holt exchanged deep 3-balls for a 47-41 lead with 1:30 left in the third period. Then 6-foot-5 junior forward Pablo Rivas would hit a shot off the backboard for a 47-43 lead to finish off the third period.
The fourth quarter started with Lorenzo Smith scoring on a tip-in for a 47-45 lead, followed by a Rivas' face-up jumper to tie the game at 47 all - completing a comeback while they were down 10 points at one point during the game.
The game would see-saw back and forth, until Tyler Bell would make a clutch 3-point shot for a 54-50 Chavez lead with 2:40 left in the game. Chavez then would get defensive, as Rivas would send his third block of the game into the stands, followed by his fourth block on the next play to conserve the small lead.
A huge mistake by Mountain Ridge would take place, as they would not be able to get the ball inbounds for a 5 second call. Then Ridge would be forced to foul.
Holt would make two free-throws, followed by a DJ Nunez lay-up in traffic for a 56-52 lead with :50 seconds left.
Chavez would get fouled with :31 seconds left and miss the front end of the 1-and-1; but missed free throws and shots by Ridge would give the #2 seed Champions a 56-52 win.
Will Holt had 11 points, Tyler Bell had 12 points and Pablo Rivas had 7 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks in the victory for Chavez.
Tanner Waldrip and DJ Nunez had 14 points in the loss for Ridge.