Tonight I attended the Division-II, second round playoff matchup between the #17 seed Cactus Shadows Falcons (Cave Creek, AZ) and the #1 seed Sunnyslope Vikings. The gym was packed with the majority of the fans wearing green! The game really lived up to all the hype.
The Sunnyslope Vikings (coached by Ray Portella) came into this contest RED-HOT with a record of 27-3, and having just recently captured the Division-II, Section-III, Boy’s Basketball Championship and received a first-round bye in the state tournament. The Cactus Shadows Falcons (coached by former Shadow Mountain state champion and D-I player for the Richmond Spiders, Jamaal Scott) had just come off an on-the-road victory over the Notre Dame Prep Saints, 58-44.
Sunnyslope started off in complete control, by winning the tip and jumping out to a big 10 to 1 lead.
Cactus Shadows would have no answer in the 1st quarter for the trio of 5-foot-9 G Navareio Holmes (JR), 5-foot-11 G Isaiah Cota (SR), and 6-foot-8 F Michael Humphrey (JR). At the end of the first quarter, Sunnyslope was all over Cactus Shadows 15 to 5.
The second quarter started out the same as the first. Sunnyslope would take a commanding 26-10 lead, and it seemed they would roll on from there. Cactus Shadows had different plans in mind. The Falcons would absolutely storm back - leaving the Sunnyslope Vikings and their entire student section in shock. Cactus Shadows went on a 16-3 run in part to 6-foot-2 W Reilly Goulet (JR) who came off the bench, and exploded for 7 points in a span of 2 minutes.
Sunnyslope's 5-foot-10 G Ari Stern (JR) came up huge for the Vikings in the final :05 seconds, as he drilled a three from the left wing, as time ran out in first half.
After two quarters of play - Sunnyslope 32, Cactus Shadows 26.
It looked as if the magic would wear off for the Falcons when Justin Laine started the 3rd quarter with a missed 3-point shot from the right corner. However, Cactus Shadows would start the half on a 6 to nothing run, as 6-foot-1 F Justin Laine (JR) would drive hard to the basket, two possessions in a row, and score on both attempts. Next, 6-foot-3 F Mike Rabbani (SR) would attack the rack and score.
Sunnyslope now called timeout and the Cactus Shadows' fans were now on their feet! Sunnyslope would come out of the timeout and turn the ball over, but Michael Humphrey made up for it with one of his many blocks, and Isaiah Cota would reward the big man in transition with a back-door lob for the lay-in.
The 3rd quarter would remain even from this point on, but, once again, Cactus Shadows would give up a dagger. With the score 40 to 37 with the Vikings in the lead, 6-foot G David Miller (JR) would hit a 3-point shot as time expired.
The 4th quarter was much more calm. Sunnyslope would dominate time of possession and nail a 3-point field goal on their first possession. Cactus Shadows would presume to go down and drive into the paint, and Michael Humphrey would block the shot.
Cactus Shadows would force a turnover and 5-foot-10 G Connor Mayer (SR) would get the steal and lay it in. Timeout Cactus Shadows with 7:01 left to play in the game. However, this is where the turning point was, as Sunnyslope’s leading scorer and senior captain Isaiah Cota would drill a three-pointer with 6:31 left in the game.
Both teams would end up trading baskets, and with :25 seconds to go, the big 6-8 man for “Slope” would have a huge throw-down, which would, in turn, electrify the crowd.
6-foot-2 G Carlson (CJ) Davis (SR) would get fouled by Navareio Holmes shooting a 3-pointer and would sink all three free-throws, but that was still not nearly enough, as Sunnyslope held on to win - 64-53 and advancing to the Division-II quarterfinals where they will meet Sahuaro (Tucson, AZ), who ironically took down Saguaro (Scottsdale, AZ) in the state playoffs, 72-62.
Cactus Shadows: (Notable Performers)
Carlson (CJ) Davis = 16 points and 5 rebounds
Mike Rabbani = 15 points and 9 rebounds
Sunnyslope: (Notable Performers)
Michael Humphrey = 20 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocks
Navareio Holmes = 16 points and 4 assists
Isaiah Cota = 12 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds