Lady Vikings return to 2A basketball state playoffs<br>
Ashley Rocha tries to shake off a Red Mesa defender at regionals.
Playing Friday in one of the toughest gyms in northern Arizona, Williams was able to down Valley, 52-45, on the Pirates’ own floor in Sanders. In the championship game Saturday, St. Johns downed the Lady Vikes, 54-35.
“We’re heading down with the most experience we’ve had,” WHS coach Lorenzo Rodriguez said. “We have three solid seniors who have been playing since they were freshmen.”
Williams will face Northwest Community Christian in today’s opening round at 5 p.m. The game will be played at Hamilton High School in Chandler.
“The key will be defense ... we will work on boxing out and sticking to our game by pushing the ball,” Rodriguez said. “We can’t slow it down. We’ll be OK if we move the ball like we’re capable of moving it.”
The Lady Vikings have qualified for state every year since 1999 and it’s the team’s sixth appearance in the last seven years. In the past four appearances, Williams has fallen in the first round to Phoenix Country Day School, Palo Verde Christian (now Pusch Ridge), Tombstone and Duncan.
“These girls are confident and they will be up for this game,” Rodriguez said. “When they have their confidence up, they do real well.”
With a victory, Williams will face the winner of the Thatcher-Maricopa game Thursday at Mountain Pointe in Phoenix. The 2A semifinals will be Friday morning and the championship Saturday at 2 p.m., those games at America West Arena in Phoenix.
Williams qualified for state in Wednesday’s home victory over Red Mesa, the No. 3 seed out of the Four Corners Region. The Lady Vikings seemed to be in control through three quarters, but the visiting Redskins almost pulled off an amazing comeback in the fourth.
Williams took its biggest lead of 17 points with 2:22 left in the third quarter on an Ashley Rocha basket and the Vikings had a 15-point lead with 7:07 left in the game on a Tami Edes hoop.
Red Mesa began to chip away at the lead, mainly behind its three-point shooting. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Redskins went on a 7-0 run to tie the game, 58-58. After a Sylvia Aguilar free throw put Williams back on top, Red Mesa countered with another basket to take its first lead of the game with 3:21 remaining.
The Vikings tied the game on a Teri Stevens free throw and then Red Mesa regained the lead with another free throw at the 3:16 mark. But that would be it for the Redskins. The Williams defense dominated in the final three minutes and Red Mesa was shutout the rest of the way.
Lyssa Mulvihill hit a three-pointer right at the 3-minute mark to put WHS up for good. Rocha scored two baskets and the team made 4-of-7 free throws in those last three minutes to give the Vikings a 10-point win.
Rocha scored 22, Mulvihill had 18 and Stevens scored 16 to lead the Lady Vikings. Those three players accounted for 79 percent of the team’s offense.
With the win, Williams advanced to the regional semifinals in Sanders and the opponent would be the hometown Valley Pirates.
The Vikings made it through the first half with a six-point lead but then had a lapse in the third quarter. Leading by just one point with eight minutes to play, Williams came up big in the fourth with 24 points to win by seven.
“We have these lapses where we get away from our game,” Rodriguez said. “But when push comes to shove, they get back into their game.”
The Sanders gym has a reputation as being a tough place to play. Rodriguez confirmed that, but said every time Valley would get close and the fans began made noise, the Vikings would come up with a timely hoop to quiet them.
Rocha scored 19 points, which included a trio of three-pointers, to lead Williams. Mulvihill finished with 10 points and Michelle Barnes added nine.
The victory put Williams into the regional championship game against St. Johns. In the regular-season finale, the Lady Vikings had pushed St. Johns to the limit in a 62-61 loss. But this time around, the Redskins pulled away in the second half to end up with a 54-35 triumph.
“It was a sloppy game in the first half,” Rodriguez said.
“In the second half, they woke up and we didn’t. They started hitting where they normally hit. We just couldn’t get in sync. We were sluggish in what was altogether a different ballgame.”
St. Johns led 18-16 at halftime before going on a 19-6 run in the third quarter to gain control.
Rocha was the lone Williams player in double figures with 11 points.
The Lady Vikings take a 20-6 overall record into the state playoffs. Heading into practice this week, all players were healthy, a luxury the program has not had in past years heading to state.