Gracelyn Nez's first try at putting an inbounds pass into Miyah Verse's hands went wrong, as a Rio Rico defender tipped the ball loose on the throw in, but Sage Begay was there to force a jump ball that went to Flagstaff.
Flagstaff's next try at the inbounds worked from under their opponent's net, as Nez tossed a long pass just across the half-court line to Verse for an easy bucket in the fourth quarter.
“It’s all teamwork," said Nez, who finished Saturday's game with five points while playing through an injury that had kept her out of the first round of the 4A Conference girls basketball state tournament Wednesday. "We all trust each other on the court, off the court, on the bench, off the bench.”
Verse had a team-high 17 points, Begay added 10 and the fifth-seeded Eagles used a second-quarter run to create some space on the scoreboard en route to a 51-39 victory at home in the War Memorial Gymnasium over the No. 13-seeded Hawks, winning a 13th straight game in the process in the quarterfinals round.
With Nez acting as facilitator, the Eagles, who nixed the Hawks from the postseason a year ago in the first round of the 4A state tourney, used an 11-0 run to open the second quarter for a 18-6 advantage. Nez found Rebecca Encinas, who finished with eight points, on a fast-break play to spark the outburst, and she hit a 3-pointer during the surge as well.
The second-quarter scoring run ended just after Verse received a pass from Nez a few feet from the rim and gave the shot a nice touch for the bucket. Rio Rico, whose season ended at 15-5 to go along with a Gila Region title, finally stopped the bleeding when Luisayde Chavez put a layup in high off the glass and completed a three-point play at the foul line with 2:39 on the clock before halftime.
“Our conversation after the first quarter, coach sat us down and talked to us, I think that was the main thing that inspired us to just go hard and give it our all," Verse said.
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Chavez scored a game-high 24 points, leading her team as Begay helped shut down Rio Rico shooter April Martinez and held her to just four points that all came in the opening eight minutes. Martinez was coming off a 26-point game that saw her shoot 7 of 14 from behind the arc to help her team upset No. 4 Greenway on Wednesday.
Chavez had some trouble getting around Verse, a freshman who recorded a career six blocks on Saturday. Verse's sixth block came in the final minute. Verse's first block was emphatic, a swinging, loud rejection that made the crowd rise up to their feet early in the first quarter.
Flagstaff took its second lead of the game in the first quarter when Verse scored inside for a 7-6 advantage that the Eagles would take into the second.
Verse and Encinas both found themselves in foul trouble late, but Flagstaff's bench stepped up, including sophomore Breonna Curtis and junior Melinda Calnimptewa.
"We have confidence that we have people who can come in and really play," Eagles head coach Tyrone Johnson said.
It was the Hawks' first year under head coach Billy Hix, a former standout Northern Arizona Lumberjacks basketball player.
Emma Doskicz added five points for the Eagles, who saw Rio Rico use a 6-0 run in the third quarter to close the deficit to 32-25. Begay hit a 3 to end the Hawks burst.
“It was good to see her take on the challenge, and we know Sage is always going to give us the effort. She does the intangibles all coaches like,” Johnson said.
Now Flagstaff faces a powerhouse in No. 1-seeded Seton Catholic Prep, which has eliminated the Eagles several times from the postseason over the past few seasons. The semifinals game is set for a 7 p.m. start at Seton on Wednesday.
Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.
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