Going into the gymnasium at Gilbert Highland can be an intimidating experience. There are several girls basketball state championship banners hanging on the wall and the architect of those, coach Miner Webster, continues to run the show.
Year-in, year-out, the Hawks are among the most fundamentally sound teams in the state and sometimes it can carry them to a victory over a team that might have more talent.
Xavier’s Gators might fit into that category, but they remained bogged down by their inconsistent play.
They forged a lead in the first quarter, had two disastrous middle quarters and staged a furious comeback in the fourth before Highland finished with a 49-43 victory in a Division I, Section III contest on Tuesday night (Jan. 19).
Xavier slipped to 12-7 overall, 1-1 in section and Highland raised its record to 16-7 and 1-1.
Casting a large shadow on Xavier is its next opponent, Gilbert Mesquite (14-5), which faces the Gators in the Activity Center on Friday night (Jan. 22). Mesquite played Highland twice, winning by 25 and 16 points.
“We’ll bounce back,’’ said Xavier coach Stephen Moss.
“We were playing more against ourselves than the other team tonight. We have a young team and we are still learning. That’s what happens. You’re going to have good nights and you’re going to have bad nights.’’
Sophomore forward Alana Kelley scored eight of her team-high 11 points in the first quarter as the Gators built a 15-9 lead entering the second. But she later was slowed by foul trouble, getting whistled for her third with 5:11 left in the third period.
Senior forward-post Vanessa Murphy scored 10 points, but six came from the free-throw line. She was uncustomarily off-target with some of her outside shots, and was a bit frustrated by the Hawks’ physical, aggressive defense.
Sophomore forward-post Montana Oltrogge again breathed life into the team, scoring nine points, but went to the floor with 4:47 left in the game with what appeared to be a leg injury. She walked slowly off the floor and was tended to by Highland trainers. Her status for Friday is uncertain.
Xavier, which trailed 39-24 entering the fourth quarter, came back for a 19-10 advantage in the fourth.
Murphy converted two free throws with 1:11 left to pull the Gators within 46-43. Xavier missed a three-pointer with 52 seconds left that would have tied it. They were forced to foul after that and Highland made three of four from the line.