With that comes increased pressure, on everyone. Each play is magnified, each shot, each rebound, each steal, is more significant. Referees watch more closely and the sound of their whistles becomes more frequent, even when there is no reason to hear them.
Xavier Prep’s Gators encountered all of the above in their 6A Premier Region opener at Gilbert Perry on Tuesday night (Jan. 8), a game that Perry rallied to win 60-58 in the closing seconds.
Xavier held a 10-point lead in the third quarter but Perry pulled closer (six points) going into the fourth. In the final 3 ½ minutes of the third, Xavier was whistled for four fouls that resulted in free throws, resulting in six points, while Perry had a meaningless foul just before the buzzer.
Early in the fourth, Xavier had an 11-point lead (50-39) but Perry used more free throws (six) to get back into it and fuel the win. The most painful of all was a reaching call against the Gators following a missed shot at their end that put Perry’s Tatyanna Clayburne at the line with 2.7 seconds left in a one-and-one situation and she drained both shots.
Perry, which starts four sophomores and a senior, is now 12-5, 1-0 in region. Xavier, meanwhile, lost its third straight, moving to 16-3 and 0-1.
An animated Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom loudly voiced her displeasure with the last call.
It dampened a strong comeback by senior point guard Leilani McIntosh, after she missed the two previous games, and a breakout effort by junior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood. Both scored 22 points, combining for nine of Xavier’s 11 3-point baskets.
Maybe the Gators will find their Activity Center home more to their liking. They play their first game of the New Year there on Friday night (Jan. 11) against Chandler Basha. Xavier has played 10 of its 11 previous games (including a holiday tournament at Phoenix Arcadia) on the road.