Entering the night at different points of their respective seasons, the girls basketball teams of Coconino and Flagstaff met for their first matchup of the regular season Friday night at Flagstaff High School.
An early run surged the No. 5 Eagles (7-2, 6-0 Grand Canyon Region) in front of the No. 21 Panthers (6-4, 3-3), coming away from the first of two rivalry games with a 56-24 victory, Flagstaff’s sixth straight win in the crosstown series.
For the Eagles, the game was just the third time the girls played on their home court this season, with seven of their final nine games scheduled at home. Just one out-of-town trip remains, Saturday’s game at No. 19 Saguaro, with the other road game coming in the regular-season finale at Coconino.
Ranked inside the top five of the 4A Conference, Flagstaff will not face another team currently in the state’s top 10 the remainder of the year.
Meanwhile, the Panthers must still face No. 9 Buckeye Union and No. 17 Arcadia as they try to remain in the conference’s top 24 through their final nine contests. Coconino might play as many as seven 4A playoff teams in its final nine games, with five currently ranking higher than the Panthers in the power point rankings.
“For us, it’s a loss on the scoreboard right now, but it’s not a loss for us until we see where we go from here,” Panthers head coach Martin Reyes said. “You don’t lose, you learn. If you fail to learn anything, then we have lost. We won’t know the results of this until the next time we play them. That’s when we will know if this is a loss.”
Neither side scored in the first minute of the game as a few early turnovers caused both Coconino and Flagstaff to miss chances to get on the board.
However, a pass from Gracelyn Nez, one of many assists for the Flagstaff freshman, found Emma Doskicz open behind the 3-point arc. Doskicz's 3, the first of four for the junior en route to a game-high 16 points, started a 12-0 run for the Eagles before the Panthers broke onto the scoreboard.
Josie Faull put in a layup following a steal on the inbounds play, with another steal leading to a pair of free throws for Nez and a timeout from Coconino’s bench.
“My girls worked hard today. We put in a game plan and we executed it at the very, very beginning for two possessions,” Reyes said. “Then we kind of fell out of the game plan. We are young still, we have got girls that are still playing hard. It is like life: You have to learn to roll with the punches, take everything that is thrown at you and process it, and get the things you need out of it.”
Another Doskicz trey and a putback for Sheridan Edgewater finished off the run, as Coconino’s Soma Freeman hit a pair of free throws to put the Panthers on the board with 3:45 remaining in the opening quarter.
Flagstaff finished the first eight minutes leading 19-7 before putting together another 20-3 run through the first seven minutes of the second quarter, effectively putting the game away. The stretch included another four 3s for the Eagles, two from the hands of Doskicz, as Flagstaff finished with seven makes from behind the arc.
After Edgewater banked in a 3-pointer, Faull connected on a mid-range jumper off of a pass from Nez. Leading 30-10 midway through the second quarter, Hailey Armus converted a Coconino turnover into a 3 before Doskicz came off a screen by Faull to put in another long-range shot.
Forcing the Panthers to turn the ball over again, Doskicz caught a long skip pass in the corner for her fourth 3 and a 39-10 lead for the Eagles.
“Because she shoots it so well and she has a shooter's mentality, she wants to put it up often and right away,” Eagles coach Tyrone Johnson said of Doskicz. “Some of the shots she takes during the game, she can take them anytime contested or sitting out 23, 24 or 25 feet. (I’ve said) let’s see if we can work the offense to get you something in rhythm and in range, and you will see a difference. She is really starting to listen and work toward that.”
Along with Doskicz’s 16 points, Edgewater joined the junior in double figures with 11 and Armus finished with nine. For Flagstaff’s freshman phenom, Nez finished with 10 points in two-and-a-half quarters of play while nearing triple-double numbers for the Eagles.
“Grace is still new to basketball -- this is probably her third year of organized ball, so she is growing every day,” Johnson said. “Some of the stuff you just don't teach, she just has it. The first thing she is doing is looking for teammates, so I had to take a stance where you have to look for you first. She is the type of player who is always going to find teammates, it’s a luxury. Something like that walks in, you just take it.”
Kiana Manuelito snapped Flagstaff’s run with a 3 of her own near the end of the second quarter and the Eagles entered halftime leading 40-13. The Panthers hit another from the perimeter, with Kailani Charlie connecting from long range, and Kenzie Palmer found herself wide open cutting to the basket for a layup.
The quick 5-0 run in the middle of the third quarter served as the only back-to-back baskets of the first three quarters for the Panthers, with Mahala Long putting in consecutive layups in a quick fourth quarter with the clock running.
“It all ends with the way we ended it tonight. I asked them, Saturday morning, 'What are we doing?'” Reyes said. “And I got 12 girls saying we are in the gym practicing. They want to be better, I want them to be better, so we will continue to work and keep learning.”
Coconino hosts No. 12 Bradshaw Mountain on Tuesday for a 5:30 p.m. tipoff while Flagstaff hosts No. 16 Lee Williams the same night following Saturday’s trip to Scottsdale for the meeting with Saguaro.