Division III tournament

Holbrook boys take aim at 2-peat

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi and Candace Begody
Navajo Times

CHINLE, Feb. 16,2012

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Holbrook's Bryson Keoni grabs the ball from a Snowflake Lobos player Saturday at the Wildcat Den in Chinle. Holbrook defeated Snowflake, 67-61.

T he quest for a second consecutive state basketball title begins this Friday for defending state champions the Holbrook Roadrunners when they start play in the Division III Sweet 16 round at Northern Arizona University's Walkup Skydome.

Pulling off a two-peat is a real possibility for the Roadrunners (33-3), who secured the overall top seed in the Division III state tournament after winning the Section I tournament at the Wildcat Den on Saturday.

If Holbrook's tough 67-61 win over rival Snowflake (24-4) in the championship game indicates anything, it's that the Roadrunners are ready to defend their crown.

"We have the opportunity to repeat," said Holbrook head coach Raul Mendoza. "I think we have a good chance, but that depends on how we play."

Against the Lobos on Feb. 11, Mendoza said he saw some things his team could improve on that could make a difference in the Roadrunners progressing through the 24-team bracket.

"I think tonight we did some things that indicated that we can become better as a team," Mendoza said in an interview with the Navajo Times following his team's sectional championship victory.

According to Mendoza, if the Roadrunners improve their rebounding margin and stay disciplined on defense, there's a good chance Holbrook could be playing in the state title game again.

"These are simple things a good team continues to work on," he said. "If we can correct those things going into the state tournament, we got a chance to repeat."

Two positives working to their benefit is the outside shooting and dribble penetration of senior guards Torrian Epps, Jalen Jackson, and Bryson Keoni. All three are members of last season's championship team.

When the Roadrunners needed key baskets in the third quarter against Snowflake, the ball exchanged hands among the three guards, who either hit mid-range jumpers, floaters, spot-up 3-pointers, or attacks to the rim to get their team a 46-45 lead at the end of the period.

At 35-all in the third, Epps executed a dribble penetration play, which resulted in him breaking down the defense and ultimately elevating over the taller Lobos for a mid-range jumper, for a brief 37-35 lead.

With momentum from Epps' play, Jackson also broke down the defense on the next possession with a dribble penetration and kicked the ball out to the wing, where Keoni buried one of his four 3-pointers on the night, for a 38-33 lead.

Holbrook's momentum was quickly sucked away by Snowflake, when Chase Walden and Reggie Petersen score six unanswered points to regain the lead for the Lobos at 39-38.

On the ensuing possessions, both teams matched each other point-for-point until Jackson drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give his team the 46-45 advantage.

As soon as play began in the fourth, Snowflake built a 5-point lead behind back-to-back 3-pointers from Jake Shumway and Tanner Yellowhair for a 51-46 lead.

Much like Snowflake's run, Holbrook went on one, outscoring the Lobos 9-3 and taking a 61-56 lead with 1:37 left in the game.

A baseline drive and penalty shots by Jackson, who went 4-for-4 in the last 30 seconds of the game, secured the win for Holbrook, 67-61.

In addition to Epps' 24 points, Jackson also scored in double digits with 22 and Keoni had 11.

Snowflake's Walden scored 17 points, Peterson had 12, and Shumway scored 12 in the losing effort.

"Holbrook played better than we did tonight – bottom line," said Snowflake head coach Andy Wood, whose team secured the No. 3 seed in the state tournament and plays No. 19 Florence at 2:30 p.m. on Friday at NAU.

"They came out and they shot well from outside," Wood said of Holbrook. "Things went their way a little bit. We let them get back into the game, and they played well."

As a result of their win and the power point rankings, the Roadrunners earned the No. 1 seed in the state tournament.

"As the top seed, we are able to get away from Gilbert Christian," Mendoza said. "Everyone thinks they are the team to beat."

Despite what others think of No.2 Gilbert Christian, Mendoza said, he has the ingredients necessary for a two-peat.

Two of those ingredients are Jackson and Keoni, who are both in agreement with their coach that a repeat is achievable.

"We are missing a lot of key players like Kory (Koerperich) and Iiacian (Johnson) from last year. They helped us a lot," Jackson said. "But I think we are filling in the pieces, finally. We are starting to get everything together.

"We just got to play hard and things will go the way we want them to,' added Jackson.

Keoni, who received the Navajo Tribal Utility Authority's sportsmanship award for the second straight year, said winning sectionals is a positive step toward achieving their ultimate goal of a repeat.

"It's amazing," Keoni said of beating Snowflake for the second time this year, adding, "Our next goal is a repeat. It's going to get tougher. We have to take it game-by-game."

For this whole week, Mendoza said, he will keep his team mentally focused on what's to come.

"We can't look past one team," he said. "We have to stress to the kids and make them understand to take it one step at a time."

On Friday at 7:30 p.m., the Roadrunners will play No. 16 Safford, who eliminated No. 17 Payson Tuesday night, 69-60, in the first round of the state tournament.

Window Rock

The Window Rock Scouts were eliminated from the sectional tournament by the eventual runner-ups from Snowflake High with a final score of 70-67.

"We missed our shots when it counted and they made theirs," said Scouts head coach Gil Clauschee. "They made some really good shots against us. We were D-ing it up pretty well and we thought we had good defense but they just nailed their shots."

Though Window Rock had not played Snowflake in the regular season, Clauschee said, "We were prepared and we knew what we were going up against. They kind of scared me because they were so big and athletic but we scrimmaged them but they didn't have some of those kids."

Window Rock still enters the state tournament as the No. 5 team and earned a first-round bye.

"They were down, but we talked to them and said it isn't over," Clauschee added. "It's good practice for us because these are the kind of teams we will see and it's unfortunate that we came out on the short end against Snowflake but the kids never gave up. There is no quit in these kids, they want to finish games."

The Scouts are scheduled to play No. 12 Rio Rico Friday at 1:30 p.m. at NAU's Walkup Skydome.

The Alchesay Falcons will face the winner of No. 10 Parker and No. 23 Tuba City, which was rescheduled from Tuesday night to Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

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