West Valley Preps
Things got a bit sideways during the middle two periods, but Deer Valley’s heralded basketball class of 2018 recorded its first playoff victory with how it started and finished Tuesday’s showdown with neighborhood rival Ironwood.
Oh, and the Skyhawks had Bryce Davis. That helps too. The centerpiece of that senior class scored seven points in the first quarter as the Skyhawks raced to leads of 13-0 and 19-6.
Davis had 13 points at halftime and finished with 24, and he was the only Deer Valley player who could make a shot late in the second quarter and early in the third as the Eagles climbed back in it.
Ironwood cut it to five late in the third quarter and were within striking distance when the combination of a technical and personal foul gave deadeye senior Deven Breckner four straight free throws. He made all four for a 14-point lead and the Skyhawks’ veteran guards bled the clock in a four corners set for a 57-38 win in a game that was more competitive than that.
“I was more determined than ever because last year at this time, we failed and went home. That was one of the worst feelings of my life,” Davis said. “We started off the game 13-0 and that gave us that cushion for the rest of the game and set the tone. I try to play strong no matter what in the paint.”
Skyhawks Gym was packed and figures to be so again at 6:30 Friday night when another Glendale team with a long rivalry, No. 9 Apollo (17-11) visits for a 5A quarterfinal.
Technically, this was the first playoff game for any Skyhawk player, following a shocking loss to Maricopa in last year’s play-in. If there were nerves, they did not show early as the top seed in 5A scored the first 13 points of the game in four minutes.
No. 16 Ironwood (15-12) had enough length to match up with Davis, but not enough bulk. The 6-7 post made a living along the baseline and down low early, scoring four straight points early in the second quarter to expand the lead to 23-8.
Meanwhile, the Skyhawks stayed basic on defense and locked in on their man.
“We just wanted keep in front and guard them. I take chances a lot and try to trap. (Tonight) we just wanted to sit down and guard, and make them take tough shots,” Deer Valley coach Jed Dunn said. “And then ride the horse. Bryce was a beast tonight. His maturity and growth has been so rewarding.”
The Eagles crept back in, showing glimpses of the play they displayed Friday in stunning No. 11 Liberty. Sophomore guard Dominic Gonzalez (12 points) and senior forward Ajang Aguek (7) were the only visitors to score in the first half, but were prolific enough to keep Ironwood in a slower game.
Deer Valley started milking the clock midway through the second and it proved to be a mistake, Dunn said later. Most of the looks the Skyhawks got in its four corners rimmed out and only a late Breckner bucket brought the cushion back up to nine.
“That (start) was was so important,” Dunn said. “I hurt us in the second quarter by spreading the offense. That was my fault and I apologized to the guys in the locker room. I took the steam out of our team. When I spread it, Jordan went to that 1-3-1 trap and that thing is aggressive and good. It’s hard to spread against a team that’s that long.”
Davis was a one man 5-2 run to start the third, punctuating the stretch with a drive and dunk in traffic for a 33-21 advantage.
But this was a far different Ironwood team than the one the Skyhawks torched by 40 in a preseason tournament. The Eagles simply did not go away.
Aguek made four straight free throws and senior point guard Tyrese Eugene finally started to shake of the shackles of the Deer Valley guards. He scored five (relatively) quick points and the visiting crowd was on its feet as the score was 35-30.
“They played hard and we did everything we could,” Ironwood coach Jordan Augustine said. “I love my seniors and everything they did today.”
Rather than falter under the weight of expectations, Deer Valley’s vets responded.
Senior guard Keyvaughn Williams scored and Breckner stole an Eagle’s dribble and brought it down for a layup. Williams then drained a corner three at the buzzer for a 42-32 Deer Valley lead after three.
“We just stayed calm and in the moment,” Davis said. “Then they’re forced to foul us (late). And we can put our four point guards and me. I love my teammates and they did a great job tonight.”
The game remained in the balance as Ironwood junior Malik Smith and Davis traded buckets.
But with 5:53 remaining, Breckner drew a foul call and Augustine was given a technical for disputing it. Beckoner sank all four free throws for a 48-34 lead.
With the ability of Breckner, Danzy, Williams and junior Johnny Diaz to handle the ball and bleed the clock, the game was effectively over.
“A ref did not lose us the game tonight. We turned it over and they got a bucket. We missed a backside rotation on our trap and give up a three. Instead of it being a five-point game at the end of the third, it’s a 10-point game,” Augustine said. “My guys got deflated after (the technical).”
Diaz chipped in with six points and gives Deer Valley its only true backcourt reserve for the three seniors.
Dunn’s team began to jell offseason and Diaz is the only new player in the rotation this year.
“(Johnny) is our main vocal leader and he is fearless. I trust him even though I know he’s going to do those kind of things. He’s going to take shots that he probably shouldn’t take, but he believes he’s going to make them,” Dunn said.
The Eagles appeared in danger of missing the postseason entirely in mid-January. But seniors Aguek, Eugene and Dhol Majak raised their games in winning four of five to get here — and Gonzalez gave Ironwood a versatile young scoring threat.
“They worked their butt off. My young guys have grown so much and I’m very proud of how they’ve competed this season,” Augustine said.
SCORE BY QUARTERS
Ironwood 6 13 13 6 – 38
Deer Valley 19 9 14 17 – 57
Ironwood – Dominic Gonzalez 12 points; Ajang Aguek 11 points, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks; Malik Smith 8 points; Tyrese Eugene 5 points; Cassius Carmichael 2 points.
Deer Valley – Bryce Davis 24 points, 9 rebounds; Deven Breckner 12 points, 2 rebounds; Keyvaughn Williams 7 points; Ari Danzy 6 points; Johnny Diaz 6 points; Ethan Cashion 2 points, 7 rebounds.