GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Scottsdale Saguaro girls basketball team didn’t need a reminder of how the 2011-12 season ended. It’s been hanging in the team’s room ever since, in the form of a headline that includes the words, “Saguaro falls short.”
The Sabercats entered last season’s state tournament with great expectations as the No. 2 seed but lost in the quarterfinals to Tucson Palo Verde.
“That stung a lot,” junior Casey Rarrick said. “But we were ready to get it this year.”
It didn’t matter that Saguaro was the No. 8 seed this season. It didn’t matter that outside expectations were far lower. Once the Sabercats got on a roll in sectionals, there was no stopping them.
They knocked off No. 1 seed Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain in the state quarterfinals, No. 4 seed Peoria Liberty in the semifinals and then No. 6 Tucson Flowing Wells, 49-38, in the Division II girls title game Saturday at Jobing.com Arena.
The win gave Saguaro its first state title in girls basketball, avenging last season’s early exit and state title game losses in 1998 and 2006. It also snapped the Caballeros’ 15-game win streak and 11-game streak of holding opponents under 40 points.
“It feels so good to get that first one,” Sabercats junior Naomi Reyes said. “Now we want another one.”
Saguaro (26-9) should enter next season as the favorite to do just that. The players who accounted for 44 of the Cats’ 49 points on Saturday will be back next season, including Rarrick (15 points), Reyes (13 points) and sophomore point guard Jelani Huma (nine points), who combined to go 8 for 16 from 3-point range Saturday.
“We thought (Flowing Wells) did a similar trap to Liberty, and toward the end of the Liberty game we had some nice looks, so I thought we would get some good looks if were would just remain patient,” said second-year Saguaro coach Chris Young. “We have ice in the veins. Those girls aren’t scared to take the big shots and hit ‘em.”
The loss ended the career of Flowing Wells senior Lyndsay Leikem one win short of a second state title. She won one at Phoenix St. Mary’s before her family moved to the Tucson area after her sophomore season.
Leikem led all scorers with 19 points while adding 11 rebounds, four steals and three blocks for the Caballeros (29-5). But she had just six points in the second half and was continually frustrated by the Sabercats defense.
Flowing Wells coach Mike Perkins elected to keep Leikem on the perimeter to break Saguaro down off the dribble, but the move didn’t work because Saguaro had too much quickness at the guard position, keeping Leikem away from the basket.
“We watched film and saw that she did that,” Rarrick said. “So our practice was basically about stopping that drive.”
As the final minutes ticked away with Saguaro leading comfortably, Young inserted injured senior Kaitlyn Quinn, who dislocated her kneecap before the team’s senior-night game against Poston Butte. With her knee still obviously damaged, Quinn barely moved, standing near the scorer’s table crying, waving to the crowd and then raising her arms triumphantly in the postgame photos.
She had only been fitted for the brace one day earlier, so it was the first (and last) time she had worn the Saguaro uniform since the injury.
“She’s a 4.0-plus (GPA) student and just a great team player, so it was disappointing that she couldn’t go out for senior night,” said Young, who had hoped all along to give Quinn her moment in the spotlight Saturday. “She was in our rotation last year and we had some younger girls pass her up this year. She never complained about it. That’s why we care about her so much.”