The Lady Phantoms went to Ash Fork on Friday afternoon and did what they knew was needed to stay in the running for a regional berth in next month's 1A tournament in Fredonia - defeat the Spartans. The final score was 35-29.
The determined Phantoms used an aggressive defense to hold Ash Fork to three first half field goals, leading at the break 19-6.
The Ladies had balanced scoring, as Miriam Bankston had 8 points and 15 rebounds, and Liz Tobin and Madison Berry chipped in 7 points each.
"I was very proud of the way the entire team stepped up tonight," said Head Coach Dan Lopez. "Being as young and inexperienced as we are you never know what to expect, but these girls are a determined bunch and are playing with a lot of confidence so it was nice to see them get rewarded with a big win."
The young Phantoms are not out of the woods yet as they have to win one of their two remaining conference games in order to qualify for regionals the first weekend of February.
Last Thursday, the Lady Phantoms defeated Northland Prep 48-38 in a non-conference game.
The fledgling Phantoms wore down the scrappy Spartans. With the score tied 27-27 at the end of the third quarter, Grand Canyon's relentless defense stepped up and the Ladies outscored Prep 21-11 in the fourth quarter.
"We have been playing very solid defense over the last month and that has allowed us to be in position to win games, which is a good thing because we sure miss a lot of layups and free throws," Lopez commented.
Balanced scoring was again demonstrated with Tobin scoring a game high 15 points, Berry had 12 points and 8 rebounds, Chelsea Curtis scored 8 points combined with 7 steals and Bankston had 7 points and 8 rebounds.
The only downside was that the Canyon was only 10-31 from the charity stripe.
Saturday night the young Phantoms found out in a hurry what happens when you start out slowly. The Joseph City Wildcats came out very aggressively in the first half and jumped all over the Canyon, taking a commanding 29-11 lead at the break. The Lady Wildcats' full court press created havoc for the Phantom guards and turnover after turnover led to easy baskets.
Lopez said that he is surprised that the girls had so much trouble against the press because they have been doing a good job of breaking presses over the last several weeks.
"One of the main reasons we went to the Camp Verde tournament was to play at game speed against a variety of presses and I thought over all we did a fairly good job," he said. "But tonight we just panicked and went back to some old habits that get our guards in trouble."
The second half performance was much better as the Ladies became more aggressive themselves and actually outscored the Wildcats 21-20. Bankston had a monster game, scoring 18 points and garnering 16 rebounds, 10 of which were offensive rebounds.
"Miriam played a great game inside and no one on the Joe City team could stop her," a proud Lopez said. "We just have to work on a few inside moves and her free throw shooting and she is going to be a force to deal with over the next two seasons."
The Canyon now has a long road trip to Beaver Dam and Fredonia this weekend and finishes the season with a key home game against Ash Fork on Feb. 1, followed by a Saturday home game against the Mogollon Mustangs.
The team would really like to encourage a big crowd for the Ash Fork game as the winner of that game will get the last spot for the regional tournament the following week in Fredonia.
"So come on out and cheer on both the boys and the girls," Lopez urged.
Games are at 5:30 p.m. for girls, with boys playing at 7 p.m.