The Northland Prep girls basketball team had never notched a victory over Sedona Red Rock, but Spartans head coach TJ Harris knew that if his team could execute in three particular areas of Saturday's game for him, they could break through.
"We have been preaching the last couple of games that we have got to do three things: put all four quarters together, shoot better and take care of the basketball," Harris said. "And they did those three things better tonight than they have in the past."
Emma Blair recorded a team-high 12 points, Abby Vest scored eight of her total 11 in the fourth quarter and the 28th-ranked Spartans held off the No. 27 Scorpions, 35-31, at Northland Prep Academy.
Just last season on the way to the season sweep, the 2A Conference Scorpions (2-9, 1-5 Central Region) had outscored the 2A Spartans (4-5, 2-3 Central) 119-35 over the two meetings combined.
Vest, a senior, wasn't going to allow the losing streak to the Scorpions go on.
With the Scorpions set to sting down just one possession, Vest found a shot inside to put her team ahead 23-19 with 6:30 to go and get her team's first bucket of the final quarter. She hit both her free throws with four minutes left to play and added two more big-time buckets down the stretch.
Meanwhile, Blair was a consistent threat all afternoon for the Spartans, who snapped a four-game skid with the win and put up the most points in game since a mid-December 62-39 loss against region foe Glendale Prep at home. The senior sparked a Spartans 6-0 run when she used a Euro step move to complete a fast-break layup, and by the end of the outburst, Northland Prep had it's largest lead of the night at 11 points.
"Both of them are seniors, and in these last two years their basketball IQ has gone up dramatically," Harris said in praise of Blair and Vest. "Just being able to recognize what defense they are in, when to shoot it, when not to shoot it, when we need a foul, just the little things. Because they are starting to understand that, it helps us."
The Spartans needed the experience as the Scorpions started to make a push for comeback out of the halftime gates. Northland Prep went into the break leading 17-8, but was outscored 23-18 in the second half.
Her team holding a narrow two-point advantage, Blair connected on a lunging shot, drew the foul and completed the three-point play to push her team to a 26-21 lead with 5:40 on the clock in the fourth.
The Spartans gave their head coach an additional area of strong play, too.
Ana Nicol finished with eight points for the Spartans, who controlled the glass en route to the victory that saw Northland Prep surpass last season's win total. Vest missed her second of two free throws, but Nicol grabbed the rebound and put it in for an early 5-2 lead the Spartans would not relinquish.
Liney Meis pulled down an offensive board late in the opening quarter and turned it into a mid-range field goal for her lone two points of the night for the Spartans. Blair stepped into a jumper at the elbow, followed with two makes at the charity stripe, and the host ended the first eight minutes on a 6-0 run capped off by the Meis bucket.
"The biggest thing is that we out-rebounded them," Harris said.
Saturday's game was the second is as many days for the Spartans, who lost 59-25 on the road at Camp Verde on Friday.
The Spartans and the Scorpions will meet again for their regular-season finales on Feb. 1.
Northland Prep, meanwhile, continues region play when it hosts struggling North Pointe Prep Falcons, who will enter Tuesday's contest with the Spartans with an 0-7 record overall.