DON KETCHUM is a native of Phoenix. He was a sportswriter for The Arizona Republic/The Phoenix Gazette for nearly four decades. He covered high school sports on several occasions as well as the Arizona Diamondbacks, Arizona Cardinals and Arizona State sports. From 2008-14, he was a staff writer for, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Gators recover, finish 3rd in hoops tourney

An unbeaten season in basketball happens with about the same frequency as an eclipse – not very often.
So when a team loses, it must try to regain its composure the best it can and face the next challenge with a big dose of resolve.
That is what faced Xavier Prep on Saturday (Nov. 29), the second day of competition in the Scorpion Shootout at Goodyear Desert Edge.
After winning their first two games on Friday (Nov. 28), the Gators came out flat in a semifinal game against Prescott on Saturday and dropped a 44-38 decision. Prescott went on to face Maricopa in the championship game.
Xavier then had a three-hour break and met host Desert Edge in the tourney’s third-place game.
The Gators, who looked tired against Prescott after a physical second game against Buckeye Verrado on Friday night, regained their strength and stamina for Desert Edge and outlasted the Scorpions 48-42.
Xavier (3-1) earned a third-place trophy and junior post player Vanessa Murphy was named to the All-Tournament Team. She scored 17 points against Prescott and 15 against Desert Edge. She combined to hit five three-pointers in the two games.
Xavier faced an eerily similar scenario that it did in the same tournament last year, when it lost a few players to injuries and played in the third-place game. This time, the Gators lost freshman Alana Kelley with a high sprain of her left ankle on Friday night. Coach Frank Villa said she likely will be out 1-2 weeks.
“She would have made a difference (against Prescott),’’ Villa said. “When one of the girls goes down, it hurts. But the good teams don’t fall apart. They have someone who steps up and fills the gap. We did it with teamwork.’’
Villa said the second game “was a lot better than when we started (against Prescott). The defensive intensity was better, and when we (coaches) talked, they (players) listened. That didn’t always happen last year.’’
Murphy got help against Desert Edge from another freshman inside player, Montana Oltrogge, who scored 14 points. Point guard Michaela Palladino and “two’’ guard Lexi Carbine each had a three-pointer to help the Gators stay in front.
Villa admitted that coaching a young, relatively inexperienced team can be a challenge, because you’re never quite sure what you’re going to get, particularly in the early season. Some players are good defensively, but when they touch the ball on offense, watch out – the ball could end up in the wrong hands or go out of bounds.
“I think we are doing quite a bit better overall,’’ Villa said. “The younger players have a better idea of what they’re supposed to do. Sometimes they get excited out there and we have to try to get them to control that if we can.’’
Against Desert Edge, Xavier had an 11-point lead with 4:45 to go in the game, but the Scorpions had cut the deficit to three with a little less than three minutes remaining.
Oltrogge scored four points down the stretch, including a pair of pressure free throws with 31 seconds left, and Carbine converted two free throws with 21 seconds left to allow the Gators to catch their breath.
Xavier gets back at it on Tuesday (Dec. 2) with its home opener at the Activity Center against southeast Valley powerhouse Phoenix Mountain Pointe (Ahwatukee). Tipoff is at 7 p.m.

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