It took a gutsy effort on Friday night, but the Gila Ridge Hawks boy’s basketball team registered its first AIA state playoff victory in school history with an 84-81 win over No. 18 Cactus.
The 15th ranked Hawks raced off to an early 13-4 lead and dominated the opening quarter. Gila Ridge was doing a tremendous job of spreading the basketball, playing with tempo and beating its defenders to the hoop. Jamison Kay led with eight first quarter points, while the Hawks shot a magnificent 61.5% from the floor in the opening eight minutes.
The Cobras would make a run in the second quarter, but each time Cactus went on a run, Gila Ridge answered with a run of its own. After shooting 13-of-25 in the half, the Hawks held an eight point advantage at the break thanks to Kay’s 10 first half points.
Gila Ridge would eventually stretch its lead to 12 in the third quarter and even led by nine headed to the fourth, but things would soon get interesting.
With 4:45 remaining and the Hawks up 8, Kay would foul out. The question now became who would be the go-to offensive guy for the Hawks down the stretch? It turned out to be Jordan Stevens as the go-to weapon of choice late.
After scoring eight points in the first half, Stevens found his rhythm in the final 16 minutes. Stevens demanded the ball and became more aggressive in the second half. The sophomore forward finished with 23 points and double-figure rebounds to help lift the Hawks in just their second AIA postseason game ever.
“He took over,” Gila Ridge coach Joe Daily said. “He attacked the basket better. It’s unbelievable the poise he has. You won’t believe that he’s just a sophomore. He wants the ball in his hands at the end game. It’s nice to have two guys (him and Kay) that want the ball at the end of the game.”
And it was the consistency at the free throw line that helped Gila Ridge hold off the Cobras late in this one. Desmond Johnson, in for the fouled out Kay, connected on two free throws late to give the Hawks a three-point cushion.
The Hawks will now seek some rest until Tuesday’s Round 1 of the 4A State Tournament. Daily noted his team is a bit banged up after a big win and the best thing right now is to get his guys healthy again. Gila Ridge will have a light shoot around practice today before practicing again on Monday.