Phantom boys miss playoffs<br>by only matter of minutes

GC VILLAGE — Seven-point lead. Five minutes remaining in the game. The crowd at Fredonia was behind them. A berth in the Class 1A state basketball tournament was at stake.

The 2001-02 Grand Canyon High School varsity boys basketball team, from left, front row: Richardson Tisi, Miguel Davila, Brian Skeet, Tempy Walker, Jacob Wahler; back row, Greg Walker, assistant coach; Juan Davila, Nate Bitsui, Kendall Kachinhongva, Miles Hunter, Mitchell Walker, Robert Stickler, Michael Vincent, Ed Hazlett, Dan Lopez, head coach.

That was the situation for the Grand Canyon High School boys basketball team Saturday morning in a region matchup with Joseph City. The Phantoms had defeated Ash Fork the previous day, 53-44, and a win over the Wildcats would secure a ticket to the state playoffs. But in those last five minutes, the Phantoms saw Joseph City rally to end up with a 61-53 victory.

"Five minutes to go, up by seven, the whole gym was rooting for us. It was really exciting," Grand Canyon coach Dan Lopez said. "But they responded and turned up the pressure. It was anybody’s game until there was a minute to go."

The difference in the final quarter could be seen in two key areas. The Wildcats won the battle at the free-throw line with nearly twice as many attempts and Joe City’s scoring balance overcame a valiant effort by Phantom senior Mitchell Walker.

Joseph City saw seven players score the team’s 16 points in the final quarter while Walker scored all 12 of Grand Canyon’s fourth-quarter points on a pair of three-pointers and 6-for-7 from the free-throw line.

"Our kids really played great defense," Lopez said. "This new matchup zone we’re running just caused them a lot of problems. I stole it from the University of Arizona and we had been working on it for the last three weeks."

The game was a see-saw affair all the way. The Phantoms led by two at the end of the first and the Wildcats had a one-point advantage at halftime. Going into the fourth quarter, Grand Canyon trailed by just four and Lopez felt the team was in good shape.

The Phantoms played well early in the quarter and took the seven-point lead. The Wildcats, who beat Grand Canyon by 31 points only a few weeks ago, had more in the end.

Walker finished with 35 points, which included six three-pointers and 11-for-14 at the free-throw line. Walker shot the team’s only free throw attempts in the game.

The Phantoms opened the region tournament Friday with a nine-point win over Ash Fork. The Spartans had won two of three games over Grand Canyon during the regular season and held a 26-20 advantage at halftime in this one.

But in the third, the Phantoms erupted on a 20-9 run to take control of the game.

"In the first half, we were just real tight," Lopez said. "Mitch and Mike are our only two players with any regional playoff experience, the rest of the team was tight. At halftime, I told them to relax and do what you can do."

The Phantoms did just that and turned up the pressure on defense. Lopez said the Spartans came unglued in several areas of their game during the third quarter.

"They couldn’t figure out our defense," Lopez said. "It looks like a man-to-man, but it’s really not. They got frustrated and threw the ball away. Our defensive pressure really rattled them."

Miguel Davila, Robert Stickler and Nate Bitsui were three players singled out by the coach as playing exceptional defense in the victory.

Mitchell Walker led the team with 23 points while Vincent finished with 13.

After the loss to Joseph City, the Phantoms went into a consolation game with Fredonia, which had just lost a hard-fought game to St. Michael.

Grand Canyon got out to a 31-29 lead in the first half, but the Lynx began hitting shots from everywhere in the second half and took a 16-point win.

"We’re up by nine with 1:40 to go in the second quarter … and all of a sudden, they started hitting three’s and cut it to one," Lopez said. "So they went in at the half with a lot of momentum."

Fredonia’s Brett LeClair lit up the scoreboard in the third quarter with 15 of the team’s 23 points. In fact, LeClair scored 44 points in the game.

"He was hitting from everywhere," Lopez said. "We could not stop him."

The Lynx also got the job done at the free-throw line. In the fourth quarter when the Lynx were protecting their lead, only six of the team’s 20 points were not scored from the charity stripe.

Mitchell Walker’s last game in a Phantom uniform was good for 25 points. Vincent, another senior, finished with 11.

The loss ended Grand Canyon’s season with a record of 12-15.

Mitchell Walker was named to the all-tournament first team while Vincent made the second team. Walker also garnered the Class 1A North Conference Player of the Year Award. As a team, the Phantoms were picked as the 1A North’s sportsmanship team of the year.

"Next year, we’ll have 19 kids coming back and it will be a little tougher," Lopez said. "Miguel Davila showed sparks of what he’s going to be capable of and Tempy played against the best point guards in the conference. Rob Stickler came on at the end of the season."

Those are just three players Lopez brought up off the top of his head. The elder Walker will be playing somewhere in college next year and Vincent will also be lost to graduation.

Bitsui, Tisi and Miles Hunter are other underclassmen who saw significant time with the varsity this season. Several other players show promise.

"To get to the semifinals of regionals was a big step for us," Lopez said. "It was an exciting season."

Mitchell Walker competed in the region’s three-point contest and missed a trip to state by one shot. A St. Michael’s player defeated Walker in the finals, 9-8.

Grand Canyon’s basketball athletes will be honored Feb. 21 in a banquet in the school’s multi-purpose room at 6 p.m.

Summaries

GRAND CANYON 53, ASH FORK 44

Friday at Fredonia

Scoring by quarters:

Ash Fork 13 13 9 9—44

Grand Canyon 11 9 20 13—53

Grand Canyon Scoring:

Tempy Walker 3 0-0 7, Michael Vincent 6 1-3 13, Nate Bitsui 1 0-2 2, Mitchell Walker 8 4-4 23, Richardson Tisi 2 1-2 6, Robert Stickler 1 0-0 2. Totals 21 6-11 53.

Three-point goals: M. Walker 3, T. Walker, Tisi.

JOSEPH CITY 61, GRAND CANYON 53

Saturday at Fredonia

Scoring by quarters:

Grand Canyon 18 7 16 12—53

Joseph City 16 10 19 16—61

Grand Canyon Scoring:

Tempy Walker 1 0-0 2, Michael Vincent 4 0-0 8, Mitchell Walker 9 11-14 35, Richardson Tisi 2 0-0 6, Robert Stickler 1 0-0 2. Totals 17 11-14 53.

Three-point goals: M. Walker 6, Tisi 2.

FREDONIA 72, GRAND CANYON 56

Saturday at Fredonia

Scoring by quarters:

Grand Canyon 19 12 4 21—56

Fredonia 12 17 23 20—72

Grand Canyon Scoring:

Tempy Walker 3 1-1 8, Michael Vincent 5 0-2 11, Nate Bitsui 1 0-2 2, Miguel Davila 3 0-0 6, Mitchell Walker 9 3-3 25, Richardson Tisi 1 0-0 2, Robert Stickler 1 0-0 2. Totals 23 4-8 56.

Three-point goals: M. Walker 4, T. Walker, Vincent.

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