’Twas little under a fortnight before Christmas, when all through the hoops theater, not a spectator was stirring, not even a cheerleader.
The Scorpions passed the ball, back and forth round the key, in hopes that someone would hit a wide-open three.
In the last game before the holiday break, fans attending the Sedona Red Rock High School boys basketball game on Friday, Dec. 15, were observing a “Silent Night.”
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When senior forward Winston Cox’s second free throw dropped through the net for the team’s 10th point, the crowd roared. And across the first 12-and-a-half minutes of the second half, the Scorpions starters silenced the Eagles’ offense, allowing just six points en route to a 57-39 nonregion victory.
“We started to play some help defense. We actually had a good sustained effort of about four to six minutes where we really played well and when we play defense like that, we’re good,” Scorpions head coach Paul Bain said.
Joy Christian’s first of only two leads came after its first basket, a three-pointer by freshman guard Cayden Collins that made the score 3-2. From there, Red Rock jumped out to a 10-3 lead behind Cox’s three charity stripe shots and triples from senior forwards Wyatt Gregson and Michael Ortega.
Three-pointers continued to fall left and right on both sides in the first half.
The ball moved in the No. 11-ranked Scorpions’ offense like a kind of heart arrhythmia, sometimes fast and sometimes slow. Around the key, back and forth, luring the Eagles defenders out of their zone until someone could flash through the lane or take a triple.
Ortega hit another three after a long possession and hit Gregson in the lane with a slick pass to end the quarter up 18-10. The once silent crowd was anything but hushed.
Then Joy Christian went on a small run, cutting the deficit to one at 18-17 after a wide-open three-pointer. Collins hit back-to-back buckets from beyond the arc to give his team its second lead at 23-21 with 2:20 left in the half; the Scorpions help defense was late to rotate on many possessions in the quarter. At the same time they struggled to score.
Close to halftime, Ortega and sophomore guard Jackson Coughlin broke through with three-pointers, and the hosts led 27-24 at the break.
“I think they played hard and they maintained in the first half for a little bit and then they let up and they didn’t get it back,” Bain said. “Halftime was a chance to regroup and kind of recollect and recommit, quite frankly, to what we wanted to do, and they did that.”
Coming out of the locker room, neither team scored until an Eagles free throw three minutes in, and they would not score again save another Collins three with 1:10 left.
Meanwhile Coughlin, who finished with a team-high 15 points on five threes, drained three of them, including two from the same corner on consecutive possessions. The latter made it 37-25, and the third put the team up 42-28.
“Right at the start at the [pregame] warmups, I was feeling hot already, my shot was going in most of the time and during the game it carried through,” Coughlin said. “I just started making all the threes I was shooting and I just kept going and my coach was happy with it. It was a good win today.”
To open the fourth, Red Rock senior guard Hayden Bruce scored in the paint before twice dishing off to Cox inside for easy finishes — 48-28. Down 20, the Eagles began to force up more triples and senior guard Parker Smith tried taking the ball to the rack almost every time down.
The lead swelled to as many as 25, and with about 3:30 left the starters left the court with only six points scored against them.
“[In the first half] We got up and they let up, and this is the pattern that we are continuing to fight. They did not let up in the second half and they just got a taste of what it’s like to not let up. It’s a tough habit to break,” Bain said. “We’re in the process of trying to play hard for 32 minutes straight, which is the struggle of any basketball team.”
The Scorpions were originally schedule to play in the Joy Christian School Winter Start Tournament, which it won last season, but opted out. They next play in the Central Region opener at 7 p.m. Jan. 2 at No. 8 Paradise Honors High School.