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Nighthawks one shot shy of second state crown

Citizen Staff Writer



GLENDALE – The fourth quarter of the Class 5A Division II boys high school basketball championship played out like an episode of “ER.”

At the Jobing.com Arena, Ironwood Ridge’s hopes of repeating as state champs flatlined when Phoenix North’s Robert Arvizu, who woke up Saturday with a 102-degree temperature and battled strep throat all week, hit a 3-pointer from the corner with 3 seconds left, giving his team a 42-39 win.

“It was slow motion,” Ironwood Ridge’s 6-foot-11 senior center Brandon Duliakas said of the game-winning shot. “His form looked pretty good going up. It was the perfect story, I guess . . . for them.”

Ironwood Ridge, the No. 1 seed, was feeling good heading into the final quarter with a 34-27 lead and clear control of the tempo of the game.

Then No. 2 North’s defense injected a heavy dose of half-court trap that a frustrated Ironwood Ridge offense couldn’t solve, scoring just five points in the final period.

On the other end of the court, North star Daniel Bejarano began slicing through the Ironwood Ridge defense with a surgeon’s precision, nursing his team back to health with 10 of his game-high 22 points in a three-minute span to start the final period.

When he followed his own missed jumper and tipped in an offensive rebound with 5:40 left, he tied the game at 36. His fourth 3-pointer of the game with 4:36 remaining put his team up 39-38, North’s first lead since it was up 15-14 at the end of the first quarter.

Then Bejarano, who also had strep throat all week, collapsed from exhaustion with 2:41 remaining in the game. There was a several-minute delay after the University of Texas commit vomited on the side of the court and had to be attended to by trainers and coaches.

After several minutes, he was helped to his team’s bench, took his jersey off and began walking toward the tunnel toward the team’s locker room before stopping at the end of the bench, taking a drink of water and deciding to return to the game.

“We tried to make things rough on him,” said Ironwood Ridge coach Brian Peabody. “We tried to tire him out, which I think we did. He came out for a couple breathers and we tried to make him work for every basket he made.”

Bejarano garnered all of the attention of the Nighthawks defense in the game’s final minutes, which left slow-shooting but deadly accurate Arvizu wide open for the game-winner.

“I was supposed to get it,” Bejarano said of the final play, “but they were so focused on me, and Robert was open. We’re a family and I trust every single one of my players.”

Duliakas, who scored 10 of his team-high 14 points in the second half, was limited in what he could do on the defensive end of the floor after three first-half fouls sent him to the bench with 3:57 left in the second quarter.

“He’s a really good shot-blocker and you could tell he was timid (in the second half) and didn’t want to go after balls he normally would go after,” Peabody said.

Hoisting the 5A-II championship trophy on Saturday afternoon was a vision Bejarano had played out in his head ever since playing Ironwood Ridge in Tucson early in the season.

“We had seen their (2008 championship) trophy at Ironwood Ridge and we knew it was ours,” said Bejarano, who scored 21 in a 55-52 win at Ironwood Ridge on Dec. 4.

Ironwood Ridge looked like it was on track to win a second straight title for much of Saturday’s game.

Senior Chad Carter grabbed several key rebounds and got the Nighthawks going early by scoring all eight of his points in the first half. Sophomore point guard Lawrence Hampton was a thorn in North’s side throughout the game, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and scoring nine points.

But the Nighthawks offense sputtered in the final quarter – two Duliakas baskets and a Chad Arechiga free throw – as it simply couldn’t get past North’s half-court trap.

“I had watched some tape on them and had noticed they had some problems with the half-court trap,” North coach Joseph Bustos said. “I told my coaching staff that if we get behind, let’s go to the half-court trap and it worked really well.”

Ironwood Ridge finishes the season at 27-5.

“Great game,” Peabody said. “Unfortunately somebody had to lose and it was us, but it was two really good teams that could have played any harder.”

Reporter Christopher Veck contributed to this story.

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