A game-winning shot propelled the Sedona Red Rock High School’s boys basketball team to a 51-50 win that felt more like a narrow escape than a hard-earned win over Chino Valley High School on Tuesday, Nov. 28.
The Scorpions were energetic at both ends of the floor only in the first half, and only survived the Cougars’ frenetic second-half comeback as senior guard Hayden Bruce hit a long two-pointer with 21 seconds remaining to lift the team to victory.
“I think that we’re out of shape. I think we got tired and I think we stopped playing defense,” Scorpions first-year head coach Paul Bain said. “The first quarter and a half, we played great defense, I was very happy. And then we got tired and it got ugly …. We’re extremely lucky to get the victory.”
Chino Valley scored the first bucket of the season opener. After Red Rock senior forward Winston Cox scored four straight points, the Cougars would not lead again until the fourth quarter.
The Scorpions ended the opening eight minutes on an 8-0 run behind a pair of Cox free throws and back-to-back Bruce three-pointers. Defensively, the starting five of seniors: Cox, Bruce, Wyatt Gregson, Cole Edens and Michael Ortega, as well as freshman sixth man Micha Johnson, maintained the intensity and energy that Bain has been looking for.
That urgency remained for part of the second. In the meantime, Red Rock outscored the Cougars 14-3 and appeared to be cruising.
Then the fatigue set in, and the defense collapsed.
Chino Valley hit a shot from beyond the arc to halt the momentum, and Cougars senior forward Gavin Cluff scored back-to-back buckets to reverse the tide. Matters got worse in the form of four free throws with two-tenths of a second remaining in the half.
After fouling a three-point shooter, who made two shots, and a technical foul, the halftime lead was clipped to 30-20.
“The effort was there, but it doesn’t matter how hard you try, if you’re not in shape, you will break down,” Bain said.
“The kids gave it their all, but you play like you practice, and we played like we practice tonight, and so everyone has to step up their effort.”
The Cougars’ momentum continued at the restart, going seven for seven shooting to inch closer. It started with Chino Valley freshman guard Seth Jelovic, who drove the lane for a layup before nabbing a transition score to make it 30-24. Slashing through the lane, beating defenders with the first step, became a recurrent sight.
When the help defense came, it did not come in time.
Chino Valley senior forward Ben Grandy converted a three-point play, Cluff scored on an inbounds play, and Bain was forced to take a timeout.
Jelovic then gave the Cougars a 31-30 lead.
At the end of three, Red Rock led 38-35, and the final quarter saw four lead changes.
Chino Valley was up 44-43. Gregson hit a jumper, Cluff did the same, and then Cougars sophomore guard Daniel Martinez nailed a pull up transition three to make it 49-45 with less than three minutes left.
Gregson’s layup cut the deficit to two. In the bonus, Bruce hit two free throws to tie the game with 1:07 left.
Jelovic again got the better hand of the defense to get to the rim and earn a foul, but made only one free throw.
Ortega grabbed a steal near midcourt and found Bruce to hit the game-winner.
“I just took the shot, it was open, no one was on me,” Bruce said. “It was good that we got the win, and we didn’t play good, so we’re going to keep improving.”
Cox had a team-high 18 points.
Conditioning will again prove to be a factor when the team plays three games on Friday, Dec. 1, when it hosts the two-day Red Rock Hoops Classic.