Ariz. Division III tournament
Wearing them out - Holbrook boys use many talents to reach semifinals
By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
PRESCOTT VALLEY, Ariz., Feb 23, 2012
(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)
Much like the speedy, flightless bird, the No. 1 ranked and defending champion Holbrook Roadrunners are besting their opponents with athleticism, defense, rebounding and speed.
On Tuesday, the Roadrunners defeated No. 8 Phoenix North Point Prep in the Elite Eight round of the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III state tournament with a score of 71-55 at Tim's Toyota Center in Prescott.
With the victory, the Roadrunners advanced to the Final Four, and are two games away from winning their second consecutive state title.
"Anytime you make it to the Final Four, it's a good feeling to accomplish," said Holbrook head coach Raul Mendoza. "I hope that we continue to progress from there."
At the end of the first quarter against North Point Prep, the Roadrunners led 20-18 and at halftime the score was knotted at 30-all.
In the third quarter, Mendoza said, the Roadrunners applied defensive pressure, which resulted in them outscoring North Point 23 to 10 for a 53-40 lead.
The Roadrunners, who were led by Bryson Keoni's 22 points, continued outscoring the Falcons 18 to 15 for the 71-55 victory.
"I think what we basically did was wear them out," Mendoza told the Navajo Times on Feb. 21. "They have five good players, but didn't have a bench. In the second half, we got on them right away."
Despite what may appear as a lop-sided victory for the Roadrunners, Mendoza said, the Falcons did manage to keep the score close.
"They hung with us," he said. "To further wear them out, our defense picked up. They gave us some breathing room and after that we became more patient.
"The big guy (7-footer Luke Stivrins) got hurt late in the third quarter," he said. "We were up by then and kept the lead the rest of the game."
Part of the reason the Roadrunners are this deep into the tournament is because of experience from last year's state championship run and their improved team play over the last several weeks.
"I think we are peaking at the right time," Mendoza said. "We struggled over the course of the season and we have done things a little bit better. We are heading in the right direction."
In addition to the reliable production of Torrian Epps and Jalen Jackson, Holbrook is also seeing offensive production from their defensive specialist, Keoni, as well as from seniors Rashaun Baldwin, Ryan Baldonado, Dakota Lester, and junior guard Sheldon Silversmith.
"This time of the year we need hard play from our bench," Mendoza said. "Ryan Baldonado did a good job coming off the bench, as did Sheldon Silversmith. It was just a matter of everyone stepping up and fulfilling their responsibilities. Overall, I was really pleased with our effort."
Keoni, whose assignment is to guard the opponent's top scorer, said double-teaming Stivrins and playing an up-tempo game on the offensive end contributed to the win.
"We double-team every time the big guy got the ball," he said. "It was mainly defense and running up and down the court that opened the game."
"They just left me open for the 3-point shot and I just took them," Keoni added. "They had the big guy on me and he's a pretty good defensive player. He couldn't go out toward me because I could drive it or score. But I also had to drive and pass it to other teammates for them to score."
In the semifinals, the Roadrunners play No.4 Thatcher (29-3) on Friday at 8 p.m. at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale.
Earlier in the season, Holbrook squared off against Thatcher in the Round Valley Tournament on Dec. 10, with Holbrook narrowly winning, 62-59.
"It was a close game. We played very well," Mendoza said, adding that Jackson finished with 29 points, while Thatcher's Mitch Goodman had 26 points.
Since that win, though, the dynamics of both teams have changed.
"It was early in the year. They've progressed quite a bit," Mendoza said of the Eagles, who have lost twice to No.2 Gilbert Christian. "They beat Rio Rico pretty easily last night (Feb. 21). We got our hands full."
Mendoza also said that the Eagles are very disciplined on both ends of the floor.
"They shoot the ball extremely well," he said. "They are a very solid team we need to prepare for. We are expecting a tough game."
With three days before the game, Mendoza said, defense and rebounding will be key factors, just like against North Point Prep and Safford in the previous rounds in Flagstaff.
"The biggest improvement is defense and rebounding," he said. "Epps has been averaging at least double figures in the rebounding department. He has been doing well. Everyone is contributing. It's been a team effort so far."
Should the Roadrunners win against Thatcher, they would play the winner of No. 2 Gilbert Christian and No.3 Snowflake for the Division III state title on Saturday at 6 p.m., in Glendale.
"We just want to focus on what we need to do on Friday," Mendoza added. "Whoever is there it's going to be tough. If we get by, then we will worry about the other two teams."
As for Keoni and the rest of the Roadrunners, two more wins would mean destiny or rather how Roadrunner bests Wiley E. Coyote and says, "Beep, beep!"