The Sunrise Mountain basketball team lifted a ceremonial rivalry trophy Tuesday night after defeating Liberty 80-77 in a wire-to-wire exciting contest.
After trading leads throughout the fourth quarter, Mustang sophomore guard Rafe Canale hit a pair of back-to-back three-pointers that gave Sunrise Mountain a lead in the final minutes that it would hold on to for the victory.
"Those are the kind of shots we expect from him, and this was his best game this season," said Sunrise Mountain coach Gary Rath.
Liberty actually came out of the gates as the hotter team. The Lions sprinted out to a lead with their full-court press defense to cause chaos, forcing turnovers and easy baskets as a result.
On the offensive end, the lions shot well from outside, hitting five three-pointers in the first quarter - four in consecutive possessions at one point - and eight in the first half en route to a 42-37 lead at the break.
Despite the hot shooting, the Mustangs used their size advantage, led by senior forward Tanner Mayer, to score near the basket and keep the lead within arm's reach.
Adjustments on both ends by the coaching staff helped Sunrise Mountain turn around their fortunes, minimizing their defensive struggles and turnovers in the backcourt.
"We talked about staying home. We were helping when we didn't need to help, and they're a good shooting team, so we gave them open shots. Second quarter on we did a better job of minimizing those opportunities, and then offensively we stopped being overly aggressive," Rath said.
Late in the game, after Mayer led the Mustangs emotionally and in scoring, the Lions began double-teaming him on the perimeter. However, rather than panic, he found open teammates cutting to the basket or open for shots around the perimeter.
"At the beginning of every game I try to get mine as much as possible. And then I expect the double team, and so I trust all my teammates to score. I just have the get them the ball and they'll take care of the rest," he said.
The Mustangs, after trailing for the entire game, took their first lead on a layup by junior Colin Carey in the dying seconds of the third quarter. Both teams traded baskets and leads late in the fourth period until Canale's shots that helped seal the game.
As the Mustangs wound down the final seconds, and the student section spilled onto the court to celebrate with the players, it was clear just how much the win meant to not just the basketball team, but all of Sunrise Mountain as a whole.
"It's the game we always are most excited for in the season, that we circle on the calendar. So to get an exciting win in my senior season like this means everything," Mayer said.
Sunrise Mountain (4-2) travels to Willow Canyon for its next game on December 5, while Liberty (3-2) hosts Valley Vista.