As the Arizona Interscholastic Association Conference 2A state tournament grows nearer, the No. 7-ranked Sedona Red Rock High School’s boys basketball team continues to find its stride.
It beat visiting Northland Preparatory Academy 64-35 on senior night, Tuesday, Jan. 30, in front of a large crowd. Nonetheless there is more to be done if the team wants to advance far into the state tournament.
“We played better, we played hard and offensively I think we’re showing better patience; I don’t think there were any quick shots,” Red Rock head coach Paul Bain said. “Tonight there was not one shot off the first pass, other than a layin. Offensively we were better.
“Tonight we were not a Final Four team .... We may get to the Elite Eight, but we won’t get to the Final Four. And come on, it’s all about the Final Four.”
The Scorpions [10-3, 6-2 Central Region] and the Spartans [7-10, 2-5] battled back and forth in the early going. Northland Prep led 9-6 before Red Rock senior guard Michael Ortega knocked down a three-pointer then finished at the rim to go up 11-9, and the Scorpions never looked back.
Ortega and guard Wyatt Gregson, guard Hayden Bruce and forward Winston Cox were honored before the game for their time with the program. It was not, however, the last time the team plays at Doc Adams Gymnasium — it hosts Page High School, ranked No. 7 in 3A, at 4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 3.
“I was anxious to play, I was super excited. It’s super meaningful actually, and all of the support around us, it’s made it really awesome,” Bruce said.
Bruce hit a three to make it 16-9 at the end of the first. Cox scored seven straight points at the outset of the second, two on a dunk and the other five on two and-1 plays. He finished with a game-high 20 points.
Throughout the season, Bain has praised Cox’s work ethic and energy. For the first time he participated on the swimming team in the fall, which has helped.
“Me swimming in the fall definitely boosted my athleticism I feel a little bit. I got my lungs in better shape and I got my legs stronger from purely just kicking before basketball season, and I think it kind of adds to my aggressiveness and hustle on the court,” Cox said. “It’s my last year and so I had a really strong desire to give it all. I’ve got to end on a good note.”
Ortega hit two free throws and Gregson a driving finish to go up 28-16 with just under two minutes left in the half. At halftime it was 34-21.
Most of the Scorpions’ offense was a product of its pressing and trapping defense, which forced a number of errant passes. The teamwork and effort were there, but for Bain, the timing could still be better.
“There were so many passes that should have been going the other way, if the other three were anticipating. They’re not anticipating, they’re watching, and then the pass happens, and then they react,” Bain said.
The pressure was enough to overcome the Spartans, as Red Rock outscored them in each of the final two quarters as well. Cox hit a corner three-pointer, one of the rare times he has shot from beyond the arc, and pointed to the bench after.
The lead was 47-30 after three quarters.
Gregson scored twice from downtown in the fourth, and the Scorpion seniors were welcomed to the bench by applause with 1:30 to go, as the next generation of players finished the game.
Red Rock traveled to Phoenix Christian High School on Wednesday, Jan. 31, winning 60-36. It next plays at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 2, at Glendale Preparatory Academy in a regular season Central Region finale before hosting Page the following day.
Next week the Scorpions will play in the Central Region tournament. According to azpreps365.com, they are slated to play at home on Wednesday, Feb. 7, but a time and opponent are yet to be determined.
“I wish I could’ve coached them for four years. I wish I could’ve had them for all four,” Bain said. “We’re progressing and getting better and I just wish I had more time with them. It’s a great group of kids, I’ve enjoyed it, I love it and I just wish I could’ve had more time with them.”
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