Maybe it was the ball, or maybe it wasn't, but Winslow's Justine Butterfield found her groove in the second half to lead the Bulldogs girls basketball team to becoming the Pepsi Holiday tournament champions on Saturday.
After nearly the entire first half of the title game was played with a boys ball, Butterfield helped power 3A Conference Winslow to a 52-46 victory over the Flagstaff Eagles at Sinagua Middle School, and the Bulldogs ended their opponent's four-year stint of owning the Pepsi crown.
Butterfield recorded a game-high 17 points for the Bulldogs, who lost the regular-season opener at home to the 4A Eagles, 49-45, at home. She put back her own missed shot below the basket midway through the fourth quarter to give her team a 37-34 lead and followed up with a three-point play for the five-point lead with 4:49 left to play.
The correct ball came into play with four seconds on the clock in the second quarter.
Winslow never trailed in the fourth and went 11 for 13 at the free-throw line in the final eight minutes. The Bulldogs finished 23 for 33 at the charity stripe overall, with Brianna Little finishing 4 for 6 from the foul stripe in the final quarter and the game.
Little's final bucket of the game was a free throw, and it put the game away at 51-44 with less than 40 seconds remaining.
The teams are used to battling in the paint.
“Early in the season, we played Flagstaff and we went 15 for 25 at the free-throw line and that was a big factor of the game, so that was one of the things we really wanted to improve on," Bulldogs longtime head coach Jerron Jordan said. "We did it in the Page game and progressively got better.”
Little and teammate Andrea Willeto each finished with 10 total points, with the latter hitting all six of her foul shots.
Butterfield had seven fourth-quarter points, and was 6 for 7 at the line after getting just two points in the first half and going 0 for 4 on free throws.
But both teams' head coaches said the ball issue wasn't too big of a concern, as both teams had to play with the same hardware.
Flagstaff struggled out of the gates, scoring just seven first-quarter points and connecting for its first field goal five and half minutes into regulation on a Madison McCabe shot. The rest of Flagstaff's points in the opening stanza came via the stripe, where Josephine Faull scored the five points on six attempts.
Faull, a senior, ended with 15 points along with Gracelyn Nez, and Flagstaff finished 17-of-25 shooting on free throws.
Nez fouled out when Butterfield put her team ahead 39-34 in the fourth. But Butterfield was the next to go with less than four minutes remaining. Faull hit the bench with five fouls as well with her team trailing 50-42 with about a minute remaining.
“A lot of that was the atmosphere and Winslow," Johnson said of his team struggles. "They are going to come prepared. They made us uncomfortable and so we rushed instead of just being patient, executing and just really seeing how we could break the defense down.”
Nez had seven points in the second quarter alone, helping Flagstaff take a 20-19 lead into halftime. The Eagles, who beat 4A Cactus earlier in the day in the semifinal round 65-46 on Nez's 14 points and nine rebounds, came out of the break flat, again scoring just seven points and connecting on one field goal -- a layup from Nez.
Emma Doskicz finished with 11 points for the Eagles, who watched their last lead of the game vanish when the Bulldogs went on a 7-0 run in the third quarter and never looked back. She hit a 3 with 1:51 to go in the game, cutting her team's deficit to 46-42, but Winslow worked the paint and the foul line to secure the title.
“This is what makes it fun, and it’s good to get this type of game in this type of atmosphere early in the year, and we we’ll see where we go from here," Johnson said. "Is this going to make us or break us. We got to regroup and get back to the drawing board.”
Nez and Sheridan Edgewater made the all-tournament team for Flagstaff, with Butterfield and Kristin Wagner named to the list for Winslow.
Kiana Manuelito made the all-tourney team and the Panthers girls basketball team finished its Pepsi stint with a 44-16 win over the Arizona Lutheran Coyotes.
Coconino went 3-1 for the weekend, with its lone loss coming to Winslow.
NORTHLAND PREP GIRLS
The 2A Spartans finished 0-2 for the tournament after losing to Poston Butte on Saturday, 47-11.
FLAGSTAFF BOYS 67, NORTHLAND PREP BOYS 56
The 4A Eagles overcame a slow start and topped the 2A Spartans as the teams ended the tourney in a rare meeting.
Troy Yazzie led all scorers with 21 points and finished 9 for 9 at the free-throw line for the Eagles, who were outscored 11-8 in the first quarter but stormed to a lead with a 23-point second while limiting the Spartans to 13 in the eight minutes before the break.
It was just the second time ever the teams have ever met, with the first being a 77-71 victory for Flagstaff in the 2013 addition of the Pepsi tournament.
Yazzie made the all-tournament boys team.
Flagstaff controlled the third quarter as well, winning it 21-7. The Eagles had three players score seven points in Sean Estes, Walter Downs and Carter Huisman, and Luke Thompson tallied eight.
Flagstaff was 2-1 in the tourney overall, while NPA finished 1-2.
The Spartans were led by Simon Trebon's 12 points, but he went 3 for 8 at the charity stripe.
Jack Berger, also named to the all-tourney team, recorded eight points against Flagstaff with teammate Fred Gooding putting up just as many.
The 4A Panthers capped off their stay in the Pepsi tournament with a 52-33 victory over Sunrise Mountain of Las Vegas, recording 22 points in the third quarter to take control on the way to the victory in the losers bracket.
Tanner McNeese and Jacob Begay each hit two 3s in the third for the Panthers, who scored 23 first-half points. McNeese ended his night with 13 points on four total treys and Begay added eight points. Avram Tijerin contributed seven points in the win that left Coconino going 2-1 for the weekend.
Brennan Motes made the all-tournament boys team for Coconino.