Ashley Sours says it was superstition that helped the Cactus High School girls

basketball team to a state championship last week.

"It was a good sign that we got to sit on this bench," Sours said, pointing to the East bench the Cobras used for the 4A championship game against Thunderbird at America West Arena Saturday. "Every team that has been sitting there has won. Last year, we sat over there (on the West side)."

Sours was referring to the

53-40 loss the Cobras suffered to the same Thunderbird team in last year's semifinals at AWA.

But history did not repeat itself as Cactus staked revenge in a 63-54 win over the two-time defending champions.

"The job is done," a smiling Jamie Nesbit said after the game, referring to the team's theme this year of "Unfinished Business."

Cactus won its third state title in the sport and first since 1993. The school also won it all in 1987, all coming under current coach Jim Graham.

"It'll be nice to walk into the gym and see the banners that say (champions in ) '87, '93, and now, '04," Graham said.

While the game with Thunderbird was tight for most of it, Cactus held the lead for all of it, except parts of the first quarter and once in the second quarter.

Thunderbird, which only had eight players suit up for the game, trailed only 36-34 in the third quarter when University of Nevada-bound Charlanda Franklin hit a turnaround jumper in the lane.

That's before five different Cactus players scored during a 10-0 run that put the margin into double digits.

Cactus' defense, which was instrumental in its semifinals win over Flagstaff High the previous afternoon, kept up the pressure against Thunderbird and the Chiefs never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.

"Defense is one of the strongest points of this team," said Sours, who led all players with 21 points. "We knew we could do it."

The first half against Thunderbird featured a game of spurts.

After a relatively tight first quarter that saw Cactus grab a four-point lead, the Cobras extended it to nine just a minute into the second quarter.

Chelsi Roberts hit a jumper and a 3-pointer, and after both teams traded baskets, Cactus was up 23-14 with a little more than four minutes remaining.

Jazmyn Foster then took over for Thunderbird, scoring 10 straight points for the Chiefs over a three-minute span.

Cactus, meanwhile, got sloppy with handling the ball and helped T-bird grab a one-point lead with a minute left in the half.

But Rebecca Tobin converted a three-point play to help give Cactus a two-point lead at the break.

"This is the hardest working team I've ever had," Graham said. "Ashley stayed out of foul trouble this year, which was big. And Jaime wasn't injured this time."

Nesbit's absence from last year's semifinal against T-bird caused Cobras fans to ask "What if?" The guard injured herself in the region tournament the week prior, forcing Graham to quickly come up with a new scheme.

But against Thunderbird this year, it wasn't an issue and Cactus proved it was a champion.

That championship appeal first showed itself during the fourth quarter of the semifinals game against Flagstaff.

Cactus led by only one point at the end of the first quarter, halftime and third quarter, but broke the game open in the fourth quarter under trying circumstances.

Sours, who had scored 14 of Cactus' first 16 points in the first quarter, picked up her fourth personal foul with 7:09 left in the fourth quarter.

But instead of taking her out of the game to save her for the end, Graham stuck with Sours and let the Cactus defense loose.

Flagstaff hit a pair of free throws on Sours' fourth foul to cut their deficit to 44-41, but that preceded a 21-2 run for Cactus.

The Cobras' pressure defense forced Thunderbird into numerous turnovers and Cactus turned those miscues into points.

In all, Cactus outscored Flagstaff 31-7 to earn the date in the finals.