With his team’s newfound lead down to just one point, Marcus Crowther connected on a corner 3-pointer for the Flagstaff Eagles with a little more than two minutes left on the clock.
Following a timeout by the Coconino Panthers, Brett McGowan looked to answer with his own 3 only for it to rattle in and out of the basket about 20 seconds later.
The two 3s ended up swinging the game in the Eagles’ favor, as the No. 20 team in the 4A Conference knocked off the rival No. 9 Panthers 59-58 Tuesday night at Coconino High School. Rallying from a 12-point deficit midway through the second quarter, Flagstaff took its first lead since early in the first with 1:17 remaining in the third, setting the stage for a tight final eight minutes.
“That was probably one of the funnest games of my life,” said Flagstaff’s K.P. Kortsen, who led the Eagles with 21 points, including six in the final quarter. “Both teams are going crazy, it was a close game, it wasn't a blowout. When you are butting heads with the other team, you just love to play and love to watch it.”
Kortsen made his presence known early in the game with three 3s in the first quarter, accounting for nine of his team’s 11 in the opening eight minutes. He then closed out the game by hitting 1 of 2 from the free-throw line with 24.6 seconds on the clock, accounting for the game-winning point.
It was Kortsen who put the Eagles in front 41-40 with a layup through contact late in the third quarter, and it was the senior again breaking a 44-44 tie on a 3-pointer with 7:10 left in the game.
“You just love to see it go in and when you see it go in, you know you can just keep doing it,” Kortsen said. “My teammates kept telling me to shoot it and when they have confidence in you, it’s easier to have confidence in yourself.”
After Kortsen put Flagstaff back in front, Ramsey Penza put down an alley-oop pass from Troy Yazzie, his second dunk of the game, to push the Eagles ahead by five. Yazzie capped off the 7-0 run, giving Flagstaff its largest lead of the night at 51-44, with a layup about 40 seconds later.
However, Coconino tightened it back up after a putback by Kortsen with 4:30 left. McGowan connected on a corner 3, part of his 14-point night, before Joram Watson brought the Panthers within one on a fastbreak layup, setting the stage for the exchange of 3-point attempts.
After McGowan’s shot rimmed out, Coconino sent Penza to the line, where he hit a pair of free throws to cap off his 12-point game. The Panthers turned the ball over after a five-second inbounds call, but Emilio Esquivel stole the resulting possession and sprinted ahead for a layup.
The teams traded one-point possessions, with Kortsen and Brennan Motes each hitting one from the free-throw line in the final 25 seconds, before Esquivel added a 3 with about two seconds remaining on the clock. While the shot brought the Panthers within one, Coconino did not have enough time left to foul Flagstaff on the inbound pass as the Eagles held on for another rivalry win.
“I thought we struggled offensively,” said Panthers head coach Mike Moran, with Coconino scoring 29 points in the first 12 minutes of the game, and adding just 29 more in the final 20. “We turned the ball over and didn’t play smart during a stretch and let them back in it.”
Coconino led for much of the night after the opening minutes, ending the first quarter with an 18-11 lead thanks to Watson’s layup at the buzzer. Abel Harris bumped the lead to nine with a one-handed basket to open the second quarter. A 3 from Harding Eddie, four points by McGowan and an inbound bank shot by Esquivel put the Panthers ahead 29-17 with 3:56 remaining in the second quarter.
While four Panthers finished with at least nine points, as Esquivel led Coconino with 16, Watson added 10 and Eddie nine, Flagstaff’s offense came alive just before the half.
Yazzie scored eight of his 12 points in the second quarter, including three layups during Flagstaff’s 11-0 run to pull within one at 29-28. Penza added a make from beyond the arc in the corner during the run.
While a foul at the buzzer allowed Eddie to hit three free throws, sending Coconino into the break leading 32-28, Flagstaff’s rally carried over to the second half.
“I’m extremely pleased, we got so much effort from so many guys tonight,” said Eagles head coach Nick Walton, with his team just four days removed from a sloppy home loss to Mingus Union. “That’s kind of been a struggle for us this year, where we have gotten in a slump a little bit and we haven't been able to dig ourselves completely out of it.”
The win brings Flagstaff back into contention for a Grand Canyon Region title, as the Eagles now sit at 5-2 in region and 6-3 overall in the regular season. Coconino remains among the three one-loss teams at the top of the region, sitting at 3-1 in Grand Canyon play and 8-2 overall.
With the teams set to face off again at Flagstaff on Feb. 2, capping off Grand Canyon Region play, Moran said he’d told his team no matter the result Tuesday, the region would likely come down to their season finale against the Eagles.
“I’m so proud the kids came out and the parents. They are here backing us, we have a lot of great people,” Moran said. “I’ll tell you what, I think Coconino boys basketball is back. It’s a loss tonight, but hey, that happens in basketball.”