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.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Valiant hoops effort falls just short

Keep playing. Don’t stop. Whatever happens, do not stop. You never know what is going to happen.

It was a valiant effort by Xavier Prep’s basketball team on Friday night (Jan. 12). The Gators trailed host Gilbert Mesquite by 14 points in the third quarter and by 10 when the fourth quarter began.

Xavier battled back to take the lead with 1:53 left in regulation, but Mesquite recovered and posted a heart-pumping 65-62 victory.

Mesquite, the defending 5A Conference state champion, raised its overall record to 16-3. It was the second victory by the Wildcats over Xavier this season. The first came in the (Gilbert) Highland Thanksgiving tournament.

Xavier, meanwhile, had a 14-game winning streak snapped and fell to 16-4.

There were times when Xavier only slightly resembled the team that built that outstanding record. Not much seemed to go right. The Gators were their own worst enemy at times, and combined with Mesquite’s cut-and-pass offense, chances for a recovery seemed remote.

The Gators’ comeback hinged on their 3-point shooting. They connected on seven of their nine  long-range shots after intermission.

The last one came with 1:53 left in regulation, by Addison Putnam, who had four in all, that gave the Gators a 61-59 lead.

Then fate interceded.

After a Mesquite timeout with 1:15 left, Hailey Walker stepped to the free-throw line for a one-and-one situation with 1:08 remaining. She missed and after a teammate grabbed the rebound, Walker circled back outside and drained a 3-pointer. Miss the free throw but not the 3. Go figure.

Walker did manage to convert two free throws with 22.3 seconds left to make it 64-61. Xavier forward Montana Oltrogge hit two free throws with 6.1 seconds left, but the first one was waved off when it was ruled that she stepped over the line.

Shaylee Gonzales finished it off for Mesquite by hitting one of two free throws with 5 seconds left.

After a sluggish start, Oltrogge came back to finish with 28 points, including three 3s in the second half. Point guard Leilani McIntosh had 21 with a pair of 3s.

Lindsey VanAllen led Mesquite with 27 points and joined Gonzales in the career 2,000-point club, a well-earned rarity.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom and her teammates were disappointed by the outcome, but she could not fault her team’s effort.
“I’m still proud of them,’’ Gillom said. “They played the best team in the state right down to the end. We showed a lot of heart. We never gave up.

“Mesquite is a very experienced team. They have played together for a long time and that was the difference.’’

Xavier attempted to pressure the Wildcats as they have with most of their other opponents this season, but Mesquite’s ability to neutralize that approach was above that level most of the time.

“We pressured them a lot but they kept their poise,’’ Gillom said.

Only four of the Gators scored, and she would like to see a better balance.

So it is time to get back on the bike and start pedaling again.

“We showed we can play with anybody tonight,’’ Gillom said.

On Tuesday (Jan. 16), Xavier will begin its second trip through the 6A Conference Premier Region with a home contest against Gilbert Perry. Tipoff is 7 p.m.

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