The Sunrise Mountain girls defeated Cactus Shadows 64-48 in the 5A basketball semifinals Wednesday, earning a bid to the state championship game.
Despite the 16-point margin, the game was close nearly the whole way.
Cactus Shadows came out with a physical defense aimed at bothering the Mustang dribblers. It worked at first, as the Falcons raced out to a 10-2 lead. However, the Falcons’ physicality became a detriment, as the referees called a tight game and they were called for 14 fouls in the first half alone.
The Mustangs took a lead into halftime behind several free throws earned by the fouls. They have struggled with their foul shots all season, and one of their best shooting nights came at the perfect time.
“We put a lot of time in at practice toward the end of the season to try and iron that (free throws) out for games like this. To do it like this, in front of probably the biggest crowd we’ve played in front of, I was really proud,” coach Jenn Tolle said.
The Mustangs ramped up their defense even more in the third quarter, allowing just five points in the entire period. They, however, kept attacking, and ended the quarter with a wild buzzer beater.
Senior Teryn Demaree caught a pass with seconds remaining and hoisted a three-pointer only to have it blocked. The ball fell directly back into her arms, and she shot again, this time banking the ball in from the left for a basket as time expired.
In a way, the shot was a symbol for the team’s resilience throughout the 2019-20 season.
“All season we’ve been telling ourselves that if we get pushed down then we immediately get up and go at it again. So the buzzer was about to go off, and I’m thinking I’ve got to shoot, and we’ve got to go into the fourth quarter with some momentum,” Demaree said.
From there, Sunrise Mountain kept defending and hit enough free throws to ice the game and celebrate victory with the home crowd.
The game will serve as a fond memory for Demaree, as Sunrise Mountain captured a win in its final contest in the Mustang gym. She is just one of two seniors on the varsity roster. Despite their overall youth, she said the underclassmen hung tough in difficult moments.
“They’ve worked so hard. It was hard to get everyone to gel as a team at first, but things have gone really well since then, and everyone’s done so much to get us here,” she said.
The Mustangs will face defending-champion Millennium for the 5A title on March 2. The time will come for preparation. At least a few hours, though, the Mustangs will revel in their victory.
“We’re going to enjoy this one for tonight,” Tolle said, “and then tomorrow you’ve just got to think about the next one and try to give it our all for one more game.”