Column: Best games of the year
Riding home from Mesa on Saturday was a big moment for me. After covering the state track meets, it dawned on me that it was the final prep sporting event I'd cover during this school year.
The sports seasons are all done now, ready to give way to summer.
With that, allow me to look back and rank the some of the best games I covered this past year:
First place: Yuma Catholic vs. Northwest Christian
Another year, another closs loss to Northwest Christian.
The Shamrocks met the Crusaders for the seventh time in four years and the semifinal bout between the two teams lived up to the hype. The Crusaders scored a fourth quarter touchdown on a fourth-and-long to win 21-17 and got some revenge from the 2012 Division V state championship, the only one of the seven meetings the Shamrocks won.
Fate has seemed to tie these teams together so I don't expect we've seen the last great Shamrock/Crusader contest.
Second place: River Valley at Yuma Catholic
In the second game of the year, River Valley tied the game 14-14 late in the fourth quarter on a 50-yard touchdown pass, shocking the Yuma Catholic crowd and giving all the momentum to the Dust Devils.
The Shamrocks scored two plays later.
Senior running back Kody Hazlett rushed for nearly 300 yards against River Valley, including the game-winning 71-yard touchdown run down the left sideline. If the Dust Devils would have ended up winning the game, it would have dropped the Shamrocks to 0-2 for the first time under coach Rhett Stallworth.
Third place: Gila Ridge at Cibola
Gila Ridge was doing its best to keep this game close and a short touchdown run by Kainoa Renaud made it 21-15 Cibola with 10:35 left.
Then Raiders running back Jordan Mitchell and the Cibola offensive line simply took over.
Mitchell rushed for 122 of his 339 yards after Renaud's touchdown and blew the game open and eventually won 34-15 and claimed their fourth straight city championship.
Fourth place: Scottsdale Christian vs. Yuma Catholic
I'm not going to lie, when Scottsdale Christian took a 13-0 lead in the first quarter after Shamrock quarterback Jagan Cleary threw an interception for a touchdown, I thought Yuma Catholic was in serious trouble.
What followed was the biggest explosion of offense I have ever seen.
When the dust settled in this quarterfinal, Yuma Catholic had scored 79 (!!) points against the No. 4 team in the state. It was amazing to watch in person because it seemed like every break was going its way and the Shamrocks were scoring in the blink of an eye.
I couldn't help but think, boy, that escalated quickly.
First place: San Luis at Cibola
For the third time during the season, the Sidewinders and Raiders went five sets.
Cibola was in control of the fifth and deciding set and a block by Alexis Evans gave the Raiders a 14-10 lead but San Luis answered with three straight points.
I remember on the following point, it was called that the Sidewinders' return shot was outside the antenna — giving Cibola the win and Raider Gym went bonkers.
First place: Cibola at Kofa, girls
From what I've discovered, there's usually one time a season where there's a packed gym with a raucous crowd.
In my first year, it was Cibola at Kofa boys. In 2013, it was the girls' turn.
All three games between the two teams ended up being exciting and the final matchup was no different. It was the only basketball game I covered this season that was so loud that you had trouble hearing what people were saying — with the packed house and the Kofa band playing.
The actual game ended up living up to the hoopla. Both teams went back and forth before the Kings finally beat Cibola for the first time in six years.
After the final horn sounded and pandemonium broke loose, the Kofa band played as the King players and crowd danced on the court in celebration.
If I had one wish, it would be that every basketball game in Yuma had this sort of atmosphere.
Second place: Salome at Yuma Catholic, girls
Playing against one of the best teams in the state, Yuma Catholic had blown a late lead and gave one of Salome's better players four chances at a final free throw because the Shamrocks got called for two lane violations.
I felt bad because the scrappy Shamrocks had fought all game long and it was going to come down to a couple of mental blunders. But Salome missed all four free throws and the game went into overtime. The Shamrocks outscored the Frogs 14-0 in overtime for the huge win that most likely got them into the playoffs.
The Shamrock crowd, especially the guys in the student section, stormed the court and celebrated with the team, which was battling sickness and injuries, including star point guard Madison Brazeel with a 102-degree temperature.
I distinctly remember seeing Yuma Catholic coach Bob McGalliard, who called this game the most emotional of his time with the Shamrocks, after one of the players — I want to say it was Darci McCallister or Mary Terkelsen — made a basket and was fouled down crunch time. I looked to my right to see McGalliard turn and pump his fist and scream like Tiger Woods —with plenty of saliva spraying out.
It's what McGalliard was feeling at that moment that make sports so awesome.
Third place: Gila Ridge vs. Cibola, girls
After trailing by eight points midway through the fourth quarter, the Hawks stormed back and cut the deficit to one with less than a minute left.
Playing at Arizona Western, Gila Ridge had plenty of scoring options when they got the ball back but it turned out to be a freshman who took the biggest shot of the game.
Nadine Gil got the ball on the left wing and let a 3-pointer fly — I remember seeing the ball in the air and thinking, “Whoa! A freshman is going to take this shot?”
Well, it banked in and gave Gila Ridge the lead and eventually the win. It takes a lot of guts for a freshman to take that kind of shot and luckily for her, the bank was open that night.
Fourth place: Mohave at Gila Ridge, boys
Senior Dillon Chavez had the chance to seal the game when Gila Ridge led 40-39 late in the game, but he missed the front end of a one-and-one — and missed it badly. Luckily, sophomore post Parker Rodriguez batted the ball back out to halfcourt, where Chavez held onto it and was fouled again.
I watched Chavez walk to the line, trying to see in his body language if the senior seemed scared to go back to the line. He didn't. Instead, he sank two straight and Mohave missed both their 3-point attempts to try and tie it — letting the Hawks sneak away with a thrilling win.
First place: Gila Ridge vs. Sahuaro
I can't think of a game that I've covered that had such a drastic swing of emotions as this one.
After coming into the top of the seventh trailing by a run and facing one of the best pitchers in the state, Gila Ridge knocked Sahuaro's Alex Verdugo around for three runs to give the Hawks a 5-3 lead. It was the first time all season that anybody scored more than two earned runs off Verdugo.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, the Cougars' bats woke up and they scored three of their own to knock Gila Ridge out of the playoffs. I've dealt with some heartbreak in my playing days, but I can't think of a loss that was as soul-crushing as what the Hawks went through.
Second place: Gila Ridge at Kofa
My favorite pitchers duel of the entire season, Gila Ridge's Victor Castro and Kofa's Manny Camacho matched each other for eight straight innings.
The game went into the top of the ninth tied 0-0. The Hawks finally chased Camacho in the ninth inning and Castro, who had a no-hitter coming into the seventh inning, pitched the entire game — which turned out to be a 5-2 win for Gila Ridge.
Third place: Cibola at San Luis/Gila Ridge at San Luis
Both games went 11 innings. Both games were won by San Luis. Both games ended with the score 2-1.
These were all spooky similarities that made me feel like I was in the movie “Groundhog Day.” The big theme of this season was the fact that there were plenty of strong pitching and these games proved it.
I'm as big of a fan as anybody of strong pitching, but when you've been standing on your feet for 11 innings, you start to think, “Would somebody please come up with a big hit?”