Ray Brewer and Case Keefer look over the high school basketball playoff picture, and debate whether any major upsets will occur and which teams would be most likely to pull them off.
A Canyon Springs High player grabbed the defensive rebound in the initial minute of Saturday’s Sunrise Regional championship basketball game and turned to dribble the ball up court.
That when two coaches on the Pioneers bench jumped up and starting yelling in unison, “run, run.” The game was still scoreless.
But if the Pioneers were going to beat two-time defending Sunrise champion Coronado, they’d have to do so in transition. That’s why coach Freddie Banks had his team train on the school’s track in preseason for conditioning, and why Canyon Springs frequently flirts with scoring 100 points per game.
Canyon Springs’ philosophy paid off early as it grew a double-digit lead against Coronado in the Sunrise championship game, and even though the Pioneers saw their lead vanish in the fourth-quarter, it had enough stamina — and determination — for a 101-89 victory.
Alexander Spaight’s 30 points, including 5-of-6 free throws to secure the win the final minute, led five Canyon Springs scorers in double figures. Canyon Springs advances to next week’s class 4A state tournament at the Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
“From September on we run,” Banks said. “Not a lot of offensive stuff. Not a lot of defensive stuff. Just a lot of running.”
Coronado freshman Jaden Hardy concluded his tremendous maiden season with 32 points. But they didn’t come easy, especially early.
Defensive standout Jorden Williams was solid throughout the first half in shadowing Hardy around the court. Many of Hardy’s early looks at the basket were contested, and Williams’ teammates fed off his energy. If there was a loose ball, a Canyon Springs player was typically the first one to it.
“My coaches told me to keep a hand in his face,” Williams said. “Whenever he put the ball up, I’d put my hand up.”
Canyon Springs’ five-point halftime lead grew to double-digits in the third quarter, but putting away Coronado wouldn’t be easy. Williams fouled out early in the third quarter and De’Shawn Keperling, another starter and key performer, also fouled out.
At the end of the third quarter, Coronado scored seven quick unanswered points on a 3-pointer from Patrick Simms, and four Simms free throws to trim its deficit to just nine points.
Coronado continued to chip away until midway through the fourth quarter when Simms and Hardy hit back-to-back 3-pointers to even the score at 85-all. Reason to panic for Canyon Springs, right?
Well, maybe not.
“We just stuck to it and keep our minds to it,” Canyon Springs junior Kayvon Alexander said. “We just keep playing hard the rest of the game.”
Canyon Springs closed on a 16-4 scoring run, making sure those training session on the track didn’t go to waste. Kevin Legardy, the Northeast League’s top player, had 18 points for the Pioneers. But he wasn’t the lone reason why they won.
Alexander had a crucial offensive rebound late in the fourth quarter when Canyon Springs was pulling away, Melvin Soares scored in double figures, and Christopher Ward was active all game on the inside in finishing with 11 points. Alexander and Ward do things that aren’t often noticed in the stat sheet, Banks said.
Canyon Springs in 2011 was the last non-Bishop Gorman team to win the large-school classification state championship. If both Canyon Springs and Gorman, which knocked off Clark Saturday for its 10th straight Sunset Regional championship, win their semifinal games next Thursday, they’d meet the following day for the championship.
And like Canyon Springs players have shown all season, they’ll be up for the challenge.
“Even when we went down (against Coronado), we stayed together,” Williams said.