GLENDALE – After losing the Class 4A Division II state title game each of the last two seasons and a third title game in 2005, the Santa Rita High School boys basketball team expected victory at Jobing.com Arena on Tuesday.
So when the Eagles found themselves bringing in the ball under their own basket with 1.7 seconds remaining, down just two points after trailing by 15 with less than four minutes to play in Tuesday’s 4A-II championship against No. 1 Phoenix Greenway, they decided overtime wasn’t an option.
Out of timeouts, Santa Rita star point guard Terrell Stoglin flashed to the right corner of the court, took a pass from teammate Dominique Kelley and easily got a 3-point shot off over the outstretched arms of two Phoenix Greenway defenders.
But Stoglin’s would-be game-winner sailed helplessly to the court, giving Greenway a perfect 30-0 season and a 60-58 state championship win.
“The whole fourth quarter I was nervous,” said Greenway’s Logan Ehrick. “. . . When we turned it over (setting up Santa Rita’s final play), my heart just stopped. I was scared.”
For Santa Rita, the miss forced another long drive home to Tucson with a runner-up trophy – a symbol that has grown more into a painful reminder of what could have been than a prideful consolation prize.
“It’s a burden. Really, it’s a burden and we have to carry it,” Santa Rita coach Jim Ferguson said of his team’s recent close calls in title games. “They say what a success it is to get here. I saw where Amphi (the team Santa Rita beat in last week’s 4A-II semifinals) was trying to get to its first state championship game since 1949.
“So it’s an honor and most teams are just thrilled to be able to compete in a state championship game. But for us . . . anything less than a state championship is disappointing and that is a difficult burden.”
For Stoglin, the junior star who has carried the growing Santa Rita championship expectations square on his shoulders for three seasons since taking the team to the title game as a freshman in 2007, the knowledge of being easily the best player on the court once again couldn’t override the agony of knowing he’s facing another offseason without a championship ring.
“It’s devastating, but I have a lot of heart so it’s not going to stop me from trying to come back to state,” said Stoglin, who scored a game-high 28 points and dished out six assists despite being the focal point of Greenway’s defense from the opening tip. “It’s my last year, next year and I’m just going to work as hard as I can this summer. I’m going to win it next year, guaranteed.”
Stoglin scored Santa Rita’s first 12 points and the Eagles trailed 16-15 after the first quarter. Greenway, whose last loss was to Santa Rita in the 2008 4A-II semifinals, used a patient high-post offense and a simple zone defense that frustrated everyone on Santa Rita’s roster not named Stoglin.
“I thought it threw them out of their tempo,” said Greenway coach Howard Mueller. “We couldn’t stop them early and (the zone) slowed them down.”
Santa Rita, which had averaged 82.7 points per game in three previous playoff games, shot 36.4 percent on the night. Stoglin was 9 for 22, including four 3-pointers. Other than Stoglin, no Santa Rita player had more than four points in the first half, although Andre Hatchett got things going in the second half and finished with 17 points and seven rebounds.
Greenway led 50-35 with 4:04 left, but the Eagles came back.
Santa Rita stepped up the defensive intensity for the first time all game and rattled off a 15-2 run that pulled the Eagles to within 52-50 with 1:32 left.
The rally for Santa Rita, which traded baskets for Greenway free throws in the final minute, didn’t seem to be enough to numb the players’ pain.
“I told them nobody is going to question their heart, coming back 15 down with under four minutes left,” Ferguson said. “It was a valiant effort, but that just doesn’t help them out (right now).”
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