Ball rolls in favor of Peoria in game versus Cactus

Peoria sophomore guard Caden Bass (24) drives against Cactus junior guard Jacob Minniefield (24). (David Minton/Staff Photographer)

For the first time of the season, the Peoria High School and Cactus High School boys basketball teams squared off in a region matchup featuring two of the state’s top 20 teams.

The Cobras were sporting a 14-1 record, coming into the game fresh off a heartbreaking loss on a last second three-pointer against Phoenix Thunderbird. The Panthers were listening to a similar tune, having dropped their last two games to Phoenix Sunnyslope and ALA Gilbert North.

Both teams were looking to bounce back in Jan. 11’s contest.

“They’ll be ready,” Cactus head coach Dirk Walker said prior to the game. “Their minds have been right, they’re focused and ready to go. It’s just a matter of relaxing and not coming out too emotional and too tight and tense in this type of game, especially against your rival.”

“We are very locked in,” Peoria head coach Patrick Battillo said of his team. “One, coming off a loss added a whole other layer to it. It’s going to be a very hostile environment as expected. Our energy levels are going to be high, but it is a very focused weekend and week of practice as we head into (the game). So, I’m excited to see us execute that game plan and go out there and play very hard and compete and get a victory.”

The hostile environment Batillo expected was out to play, as the stadium was full of supporters from both teams.

The elephant in the room, literally, for Peoria, was how to game plan against its adversary’s best player, Cactus forward Bradey Henige. The seven-footer has been dominant this season, averaging 33 points and 27 rebounds per tilt.

Battillo said his team had a plan, though.

“Brady’s talented, extremely talented,” Battillo said. “We see him in region play, we saw him this summer as well, so we have a pretty solid game plan of how we’re going to approach Cactus on the offensive end. And then on the defensive end, the work that we’re going to put in towards not just Brady but the team to limit their opportunities.”

Cactus was in for a stroke of luck, too, as Peoria guard Andrew Camacho was out with a hand injury, leaving nearly 30 points and 4 steals per game on the bench. This forced the Cobras to game plan against the Panthers’ other threats on offense, like forward Calvin Windley, and guards Caden Bass and Chris Brookins.

“(We hope) they are off,” Walker said about their game plan. “They have a lot of weapons. It’s tough to just focus on one, because they can hurt you in so many areas. So, it’s got to be sound defensively, communicating well, rotating well, and making sure we are contesting shots, as well as being able to guard the dribble.”

Come tip-off time, it was all Peoria.

The Panthers jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead in the first quarter, stymieing Henige and the Cobras’ offensive front. The momentum carried into the halfway point of the second quarter, as Peoria held a 22-10 lead.

After some back-and-forth scoring, Cactus narrowed the Peoria lead to just seven points. The first half ended in a 35-28 score in favor of Peoria.

“Guys hit shots that we wanted to make shoot, and a couple banked in threes for them,” Walker said. “And execution, we just didn't execute like we should. We turned the ball over way too much, 14 turnovers in the first half.”

Come the second half, Cactus was faced with a glaring problem — Henige had already racked up four fouls, which forced him to come out of the game, which led to plenty of Panther scoring to capitalize, specifically from Windley.

“I was really confident,” Windley said. “So when I get to steal or like when a guard Bradey, you know, brings the confidence to a high level, because he’s also a seven-footer and I could open my ways to better things and guard one through five.”

Windley’s confidence carried through the rest of teammates, as the Panthers increased their lead to as high as 20 points on the backs of him, Bass and Brookins, and Peoria wound up cruising to a victory.

The 84-63 scoreline was a statement victory for the Panthers.

“From a coaching perspective, again, I always talk about it’s a blessing of adversity,” Battillo said. “We can capitalize from that, or fold. And they’re accepting the challenge and we’re not folding, and so now we just have to continue to build upon that, which is only going to make us stronger.”

“Credit to Peoria,” Walker said following the loss. “Obviously we knew they were going to pressure, but a lot of it was our own mistakes. Just forcing things when they weren’t there and making poor decisions, but all credit to Peoria they played really well. They hit shots that we wanted them to hit, and they knocked them in so a lot of credit for it.”

The two West Valley heavyweights aren’t done seeing each other yet this season, as the two will again share the court at Peoria High School on Tuesday, Jan. 24.