Holbrook boys fall short in 2 overtimes

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

GLENDALE, Ariz., March 1, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Holbrook's Sheldon Silversmith reaches for the ball as a Thatcher Eagles player drives Friday during the Division III semifinals in Glendale. The Roadrunners lost in two overtimes, 78-67.

Holbrook's Rashaun Baldwin (15) shoots before a Thatcher defender can block him Friday in Glendale. Holbrook was eliminated from the playoffs in two overtimes, 78-67.

I f you live by the three, you die by the three.

That was the case for the No. 1 ranked and defending champion Holbrook Roadrunners when they faced off against No. 4 Thatcher in the semifinals of the Arizona Division III boys' state tournament at Jobing.com Arena.

Dismal shooting and poor defense in the first half ultimately prevented the Roadrunners from advancing into the title game against eventual champions Gilbert Christian as the Thatcher Eagles upset Holbrook in double overtime, 78-67, last Friday night.

"Defensively, we didn't do a good job in the first half," said Holbrook head coach Raul Mendoza, whose team had to overcome a 16-point deficit in the third quarter and forced two overtimes. "It seemed like we didn't get into it as far as our intensity."

The Roadrunners saw themselves down early at the end of the first period, 14-6, and trailed 30-18 at the halftime break.

According to first-half statistics, the Roadrunners shot a horrendous 15.6 percent from the field and made 2-for-18 from the 3-point line.

Holbrook senior guard Dakota Lister, who once made nine 3-pointers in a game, shot a miserable 1 of 11 from the 3-point line in the first half.

In contrast, the Eagles hit 12 of 32 from the field for 37.5 percent and 4 of 13 from behind the arc.

Thatcher head coach Chris Cook said playing a triangle-and-two defense neutralized Holbrook's primary scorers, Torian Epps and Jalen Jackson, who scored four and three points, respectively, in the first half.

"We did a great job in the first half defensively," Cook said. "We played a triangle-and-two on them to try to take Jackson and Epps out of it. That's exactly what happened."

Thatcher gave the Roadrunners a reality check in the first half, according to Mendoza, who said his team overlooked Thatcher because they had beaten them earlier in the year without the play of Epps, Lister and Ryan Baldonado. In the Dec. 10 game at the Round Valley tournament, Holbrook won, 62-59.

"...I told them they are a different team," Mendoza said. "I think that was part of the reason why we got off to a slow start - thinking that we could beat this team and we could advance.

"Once we got behind, we panicked a little bit and started forcing things and taking bad shots," he added.

Once the Roadrunners realized their situation, they started playing better defense, which allowed them to chip away at the deficit and make the comeback in the fourth quarter and first overtime.

Epps, who finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds, sparked the comeback when he blocked Thatcher's 6-foot-9 center Nick Orr and drilled a transition 3-pointer to make the score 39-29 midway through the third period.

Following Epps' sequence of plays, Thatcher went on a 9-4 run behind Koby Alva and Mitchell Goodman, who scored 6 of his 25 points in the period, for a 48-33 lead.

With 1:30 left in the period, Holbrook staged a 7-1 run to come within striking distance at 49-40.

Free throws by Jackson and Epps, who went 3-for-4 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, made the score 49-43.

A jumper by Thatcher's Eric Angle and free throws by Orr put the Eagles back in the lead, 53-43, with 6:29 remaining.

On the ensuing possessions, Holbrook went on another run outscoring Thatcher 9-4, for a 57-52 ball game and 1:30 remaining.

After a Thatcher timeout, Holbrook's Bryson Keoni, who finished with 15 points, drilled a 3-pointer to pull his team within reach, 57-54.

With 1:10 left in regulation, Epps fouled Thatcher's Goodman who missed the penalty, and ultimately led to Keoni's game tying 3-pointer with 55 seconds on the clock.

Thatcher turned the ball over with 41 seconds left, but Holbrook failed to convert sending the game into the first overtime.

By the end of the first overtime, Holbrook saw themselves down 64-61. With nine seconds left, Keoni once again hit a tying 3-pointer to send the game into the second overtime.

When asked about his clutch shooting, Keoni said, "I wasn't really thinking. I had to shoot it and I just shot it."

But the second overtime was all Thatcher, who outscored the Roadrunners 14-3 and sealed the 78-67 victory and title.

In an interview following the game, Thatcher's Cook said his team came out on the lucky end of the stick.

"Holbrook played really, really well especially down the stretch," Cook said. "You know Keoni hit some big shots near the end. With these kinds of games there is luck. We got lucky. But you know our kids played hard. I was proud of them.

"We hit some big threes. Mitchell Goodman is a heck of a shot," Cook said of his star player. "He works extremely hard and has carried us all year. It was a great team effort and good shooting by Mitchell."

As for Mendoza, he said the Roadrunners dug themselves too deep of a hole.

"In the third quarter, we picked up our defense and did a better job," he said. "But we still, by that time, we were down and they kept pulling away from us. When we finally tied in the first overtime, I thought we had good chance to win it again.

"But then we had a missed free throw, a missed rebound here and a bad pass here," he said. "Little things made the difference down the stretch. And then we went into the second overtime and had expended too much energy getting back into the game that it was just a matter of us not getting over the hump."

Despite the disappointing loss, Mendoza said, his team, particularly seniors Baldonado, Rashaun Baldwin, Epps, Jackson, Keoni and Lister, had a successful season, finishing with an impressive 32-4 overall record and 63-8 record over the last two years.

"All the seniors I have had been in this program for four years. They got nothing to be ashamed of," Mendoza said. "To get back to the final four again is a hard thing to do. They had a chance to repeat and this one game prevented them from repeating."

For Keoni and Baldwin, they couldn't agree more with their coach.

"I think we did great overall because we won a lot of games," Keoni said. "We only lost four games this whole season and that's pretty good. It's better than last year. We lost five last year. Our season was great."

"It's been a great experience," Baldwin said of being a Holbrook Roadrunner. "I won hundreds of games with Holbrook and only lost more than 15 games with Holbrook. I'm going to miss it but we got to let go and get ready for college basketball. Roadrunner for life!"

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