Phoenix's Sunnyslope High School (27-5) has done it again - winning the 5A State Championship for the second year in a row. The third straight state championship game appearance for the Vikings ended in fine fashion, as the group that has played together for four years at the varsity level walked away as champions. Winning it all again was only fitting for a team such as Sunnyslope's, that has won so much over the last four years.
The final game of their careers together also could not have ended in a better way, as Deer Valley (26-3), the state's best 5A opposition for the Vikings, would face off with Sunnyslope in front of a large crowd at Arizona State University's Wells Fargo Arena.
Both teams had faced off earlier in the season, with both teams winning a game. Deer Valley would stun Sunnyslope early in the season, but Sunnyslope would storm back and blow out Deer Valley on the Skyhawk's home floor. The blowout at Deer Valley was immense, so I had wondered how Deer Valley would come back from that convincing defeat. But it was the final game of the year, and for all the marbles.
After both teams matched one another early, in the second period Sunnyslope would break free from Deer Valley with 2:45 left to play in the first half with a basket from 6-foot-4 unsigned senior Kyle Fischer, after he converted a nice hump hook in the lane - putting Slope ahead by 6 points, 18-12.
But Deer Valley would hold on after a nice, wide open three-pointer from the wing by 5-foot-10 senior guard Noah Medrano, which rolled around on the rim before going in. Then with 1:47 left to play in the first half, 5-foot-11 senior point guard Deven Breckner would convert a driving bank shot on the break, before a strong low post move from 6-foot-6 senior post Bryce Davis would pull Deer Valley to within 1-point of Sunnyslope - 20-19 at halftime.
In the second half, Sunnyslope would begin to separate themselves after a layup in transition by Kyle Fischer. After a nice three-pointer on the break by senior guard Byrson "Pee Wee" MeWhinney, Sunnyslope would take their biggest lead margin of the game, 30-19, before another fade-away jumper by Fischer would give the Vikings a 32-19 lead.
With the game looking to turn into Sunnyslope's favor, Deer Valley would fight hard one last time to turn the game around. Behind consecutive baskets inside the paint from 6-foot-6 junior post Brandon Savage, the Skyhawks would fight back. After a three-pointer from the wing by Noah Medrano, Deer Valley would position themselves nicely to win the contest, just down to Slope by two-points, 33-31.
After another strong move in the paint from Savage, to keep Deer Valley close down the stretch, a nice driving layup from MeWhinney, and then a steal in the open floor by Fischer and a layup on the break, would give the Vikings some breathing room - 39-33 with 1:45 left to play.
With Deer Valley then looking to get back in the contest over the next two minutes, Sunnyslope would seal the championship win while making their free-throws down the stretch. Sunnyslope would eventually dribble out the basketball as the clock would wind down. Slope would seal a 45-35 championship victory.
As the team walked off the floor and began to celebrate another championship win, all I could think about was how much I will miss covering this team in the future. In my 23 years of covering Arizona high school basketball, this was my favorite team to cover. They did it the right way. No ego's, no attitudes, just winning. Thanks to this group and Head Coach Ray Portela and his staff on reminding us how the game should be played, and congratulations to them on another trophy.