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.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Gators finishing strong, look for happier New Year

We are nearing the annual convergence where one year ends and blends into the start of another.

Xavier Prep’s basketball team is roaring toward the finish of 2017, and the question remains, can the Gators pick up in 2018 where they left off?

A lot of good signs point toward even greater productivity in the New Year after the Gators recorded a pair of lopsided victories on Thursday (Dec. 28) at the Red Mountain Invitational in Mesa.

Xavier began the afternoon with a 60-29 win over St. Joseph’s of California, then ran past Vail Cienega (Tucson area), 57-23.

The Gators (10-3 overall) face Mesa Skyline on Friday (Dec. 29) at 3:30 p.m. and host Red Mountain on Saturday (Dec. 30) at 5:30 p.m. Xavier defeated Skyline earlier this season, 73-29 on Dec. 1.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom, refreshed from a visit to see family in her native Mississippi over the holiday, wasn’t quite sure what to expect from St. Joseph. Her objective was to get the win while allowing her front-line players to conserve some of their energy for the contest against Cienega.

The plan worked out fine.

Xavier struggled a bit early against St. Joseph and established itself later and then put on an even stronger performance against Cienega.

 All games here are played in two 16-minute halves and if a running clock is necessary due to a large lead, that picks up at the 8-minute mark of the second half. The Gators got the running clock in both games.

“I think these were two games that our fans really enjoyed watching,’’ Gillom said.

“We kind of played as individuals in the first game, but in the second game, we played more as a team. We put a lot of pressure on in both games, but in particular in the second game when it really took over.’’

Senior forward Montana Oltrogge scored 23 points to pace Xavier in the first game. Senior Katie Hassett, her running mate underneath the basket, led the Gators in the second game with 13 points in one of her strongest offensive efforts of the season. Oltrogge scored 10 points, as did junior point guard Leilani McIntosh.

Xavier’s effort was much more balanced against Cienega, which is in the 5A Conference, one level below the Gators.

Xavier was accurate from long range on the day, combining to hit 10 3-pointers for the two games.

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