Highland High School (12-3) came into this year's McClintock Holiday Shootout over the holidays with something to prove. After an early season 2-2 performance in the recent Fear The Hop pre-season basketball tournament, where they were blown out of the gym by a surging Corona Del Sol HS team in the event (66-39), Highland regrouped and won 7 of their next 8 games before entering this year's winter tournament.
While Highland was no one's pre-tournament favorite to win this year's McClintock event, the Hawks came together as a team at the right time of the season - confident they could get done. Led by the strong leadership of head coach Derrick Donaldson and the play of a pair of junior prospects, 6-foot-5 guard/forward Jake To0lson and 6-foot-2 guard Austin Witherill, the Hawks would first blowout Higley HS (77-38) in the tournament's first round. They would then squeak past a well-coached Mountain Ridge HS team in overtime (78-76) in the tournament's quarterfinal match-up.
In the tournament's semi-finals, Highland would put together an excellent defensive plan to slow down the sharp-shooting of Saguaro HS. In a tough contest, Highland would outscore Saguaro (12-5) 20-13 in the game's second period and hold on to win the game, 83-73.
Saturday evening, in the championship game of the McClintock event, Highland would face the defending tournament champions - Brophy Prep (13-2). Brophy, led by the overall play of 6-foot-9 senior post Tim Kempton (Lehigh University signee), would look to utilize a well-balanced defensive attack to thwart Highland's offensive punch. With two very well coached teams heading into this championship match-up, it would make for an exciting Saturday night contest.
Both teams would begin the game running through their offensive sets amidst strong defensive pressure. As a result, the game would be very low-scoring throughout the first quarter.
Brophy Prep talented 6-foot-2 freshman guard Brock Brunkhorst, who had seen his minutes increase throughout the tournament for Brophy veteran head coach Tony Fuller, would get inserted into the Broncos' lineup early in the game. Brunkhorst would later make a statement in the game's second half.
After a Kempton three-point play with 2:24 left to play in the first period, Brophy would take an 8-5 lead. But Highland would get a three-pointer from 5-foot-9 junior guard Christian Sanchez to tie game. After a nice fade-away basket at the buzzer by Jake Toolson, Highland would take a 12-8 lead after one quarter.
With Highland looking to build on their lead in the second period, a jump hook from Kempton and a lay-up inside from 6-foot-6 junior post Steve Stanley would pull Brophy within 4-points, 16-12 with 4:45 left to play in the half. Another offensive put-back by Stanley would tie the score at 16 all with 3 minutes left in the half. Another mid-range jumper a the buzzer from Stanley would make the score 21-20, Highland, at the half.
After a low-scoring, hard fought first half, both teams would look to pick things up in the game's second half. Highland would look to pull away again after a contested 3-pointer from the corner by 6-foot-3 senior Bryce Farabee would give the Hawks a 29-24 lead, but Brophy would climb back into it behind the play of freshman guard Brock Brunkhorst. Brunkhorst would score on two consecutive transition layups to tie the game at 32 all with 2 minutes remaining in the third period.
Both teams would head into the fourth quarter with the game tied up at 36 apiece.
Highland would turn up their defensive effort in the fourth, led by the tough defensive pressure of 5-foot-11 senior guard Isaiah Washington. After three consecutive steals by Washington over a 2-minute span, Highland would capitalize on the Brophy turnovers and build their biggest lead of the game, 51-41, with 3:40 left to play in regulation.
Brophy would make one final run at Highland. After four consecutive free-throws by Kempton, Brophy would pull to within 2-points of Highland, 52-50, with less than a minute to play in the game.
Attempting to foul Highalnd players in the final seconds of the game, Highland's Jake Toolson would find himself at the free-throw line for 8 free-throw attempts in the final :44 seconds of the game. Toolson would convert 7 of 8 free throws in the final seconds for Highland - giving the Hawks the 59-50 tournament championship victory.
Austin Witherill and Jake Toolson would earn All-Tournament honors for Highland HS, while Tim Kempton and 5-foot-11 senior point guard Austin Hammond would earn All-Tournament honors for Brophy Prep. Jake Toolson would earn my Tournament Most Valuable Player honor for his performance in the event.
Historically, the winner of the McClintock Holiday Shootout formally would gain honors as the mid-season favorite to win it all come state playoff time. This year's version of the Highland Hawks, while still not being the favorite to win this year's Division-I state championship, definitely look like a team to be reckoned with throughout the remainder of the high school season. Well-coached, tough defensively and led by the play of the versatile Toolson, the Hawks will be tough to beat come state playoff time.