Alhambra outlasts Cactus in wild playoff overtime opener

Phoenix Alhambra and Cactus played the first three quarters of Wednesday’s Division II first round game like a pair of young girls basketball teams who entered the year merely hoping to make the playoffs.

And that’s exactly what they are. Only one senior played for each team as traveling calls and jump balls piled up and the Cobras claimed a 38-36 lead on their home court.

Then both squads cranked it up a notch, trading haymakers during the final 12 minutes — eight in the fourth quarter and four in overtime. No. 21 seed Alhambra surged ahead by six only to see No. 12 Cactus rip off seven points in a row.

Neither team could convert late and the game headed for overtime squared at 50. That’s when Celeste Lira, the Lions’ lone senior, took over with four points and a key defensive play to give Alhambra a 57-55 win.

“I had three freshmen in that game, and they made some freshman mistakes. But they fought. I couldn’t ask for better,” Alhambra coach Ernie Cobb said. “I’m  really proud of the way Celeste stepped up. She came through with the senior leadership when we really needed it.”

Don’t let the seedings fool you. Cactus rocketed to No. 12 based on its surprise Section VI title win Saturday but were ranked No. 23 based on the entire regular season. Alhambra was No. 20.

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