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.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

XCP tennis posts shutout of Gilbert High

Xavier Prep’s tennis team earned its second win in as many matches this season on Monday (Feb. 26), defeating host Gilbert High.

All singles matches were 6-0, 6-0 shutouts and all three doubles teams won by 8-0 scores.

Singles winners were Kate Straneva, Emily Good, Caroline Armknecht, Kate Stegman, Phoebe Ransco and Kate Greene.

Doubles teams were Straneva and Armknecht, Good and Stegman and Ransco and Greene.

The Gators return to the courts on Wednesday (Feb. 28) with a home match against Phoenix Sunnyslope.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Spring sports teams face busy first full week

Spring is here, at least sports-wise, and Xavier Prep’s five teams are in a full slate of action this week.

Softball has three games after going 0-2-2 in the Sunrise Mountain Invitational in Peoria over the weekend. The Gators played at Gilbert Perry on Monday (Feb. 26), will play at Chandler Hamilton on Tuesday (Feb. 27) and play their home opener at Petznick Field on Wednesday (Feb. 28) against Phoenix Pinnacle.

The tennis team was trying to make it two wins in a row by playing at Gilbert High on Monday. The team will play host to Phoenix Sunnyslope on Wednesday and Scottsdale Desert Mountain on Friday (March 2) and will compete in the Kiwanis North Phoenix Invitational on Saturday (March 3) at the Paseo Racquet Center in Glendale.

Xavier’s five-time state champion beach volleyball team is due to hit the sand for the first time with a match on Wednesday against Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep at Scottsdale Ranch Park. The Gators will play for the second straight day on Thursday (March 1) all the way across the Valley in Surprise, where they will face Surprise Willow Canyon at the Surprise Community Park.

Wednesday also will be busy for XCP’s track and field athletes when they duel Gilbert Highland in their first meet of the season at the Brophy Sports Campus. On Friday, the Gators will participate in the Aztec Invitational at Tempe Corona del Sol.

On Monday night, Xavier’s club lacrosse team was due to play its third match of the season, against Phoenix Desert Vista at Pecos Park in Ahwatukee.

Last team standing -- will it be the Gators?

Xavier Prep defeated a strong Goodyear Millennium team in last week’s 6A Conference basketball semifinals, and now the Gators will face an opponent with a similar style in Valley Vista as the teams meet on Wednesday at 5 p.m. for the state championship at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena.

Valley Vista (24-6), the defending champion, is the No. 2 seed while Xavier (25-5) is No. 5. Xavier will be attempting to win the first state title in school history.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom said Valley Vista doesn’t have much size underneath the basket that Millennium did, “but overall they are balanced and their guards are fast like us.’’

Xavier has juniors Leilani McIntosh (point) and Paris Moore in the backcourt, and junior Addison Putnam on the wing, where she drains 3-point shots with regularity.

The Gators also have two strong inside players in 6-foot-2 senior Katie Hassett and 6-1 senior Montana Oltrogge, the latter as the team’s leading scorer at 21 points per game during the regular season.

Valley Vista has two key senior guards in Taylor Chavez and Terrysha Banner, senior wing/power forward Clarissa Rodarte and 6-1 freshman forward Marisa Davis.

The 5-10 Chavez has some of the best numbers in the state – 23.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 5.7 assists and 5.7 steals. She also has made 60 3-point shorts. The 5-5 Banner averages 14 points and 3.3 assists, with 46 3-point baskets. Rodarte averages 12.5 points and 5.3 rebounds. And Davis averages 9.9 points ands 8.2 rebounds.

“It will be a battle but we feel we match up with them,’’ Gillom said. “Millennium was physical, and we don’t expect this one to be as much, but Valley Vista has good athletes and can run.’’

Nerves were a factor for Xavier in the early going against Millennium but Gillom doesn’t anticipate a repeat here, despite what is at stake.

“If we focus on what we’re doing and do what we need to do, we should be all right,’’ Gillom said.

One of Valley Vista’s losses was to 4A Conference champion Chandler Seton Catholic, one was to Gilbert Mesquite, which plays for the 5A Conference championship on Tuesday night (Feb. 27), and another to Millennium.

Xavier’s losses were to Mesquite (twice), Tucson Pueblo, Gilbert Highland and Phoenix Pinnacle.

Putnam, Moore have valuable roles for Xavier

Every basketball team needs its role players, and Xavier Prep is no exception. In fact, the Gators have two of the top players in the state when it comes to providing a specific element for success.

They are juniors Addison Putnam and Paris Moore.

The 5-foot-10 Putnam is Xavier’s main 3-point shooter and has made a big difference in countless games, putting the ball in the basket from virtually anywhere with a high-arcing shot that flies out of her left hand. Putnam connected on 60 3-pointers during the regular season.

The 5-11 Moore has a tough job every game trying to shut down the opponent’s top offensive player. She does it with a long reach, strong lateral movement and a burst of speed that enables her to convert turnovers into driving layups almost before anyone realizes what has happened.

Putnam admitted she “was nervous to shoot’’ in the early days of club ball about five years ago, but gradually developed a feel for the long shot and when to take it.

She has worked on her shot with Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom when Gillom was an assistant coach and this season as the person in charge.

“Coach has helped me a lot, given me confidence,’’ Putnam said. “In a game, she will tell me to take my shot if I’m open and tells me to keep shooting even when I have missed a few, that the shots will eventually start falling again.’’

Sometimes Putnam will face frustrating situations when defenses swarm her, such as with Goodyear Millennium in last week’s 6A Conference semifinals. She knows there are other ways that she can contribute and hopes to put everything together when the Gators meet Surprise Valley Vista for the state championship on Wednesday (Feb. 28) at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena.

“I can help out by setting up my teammates with good assists,’’ said Putnam, who averages 10 points, 1.6 assists and 1.9 steals on defense. “I am hoping that in this game, I can get that feeling and be able to help the team with some points.’’

Gillom is hopeful for the perfect storm against Valley Vista and that Putnam finds her shooting touch again.

“Those 3’s are a bonus for us,’’ Gillom said. “When she’s on, she can really knock them down.’’

Putnam would like Xavier to win a title for seniors such as Katie Hassett and Montana Oltrogge.

“We know how much it would mean to them,’’ Putnam said.

“This has already been a great season, playing with the team that I love. Game days are so much fun. The end of the game (a win) is a great experience.’’

Moore said the Gators were a bit nervous against Millennium, but were able to turn things around.

“It was kind of scary, knowing we were playing in a big place like that (ASU). But we started to say, “We got this,’ and were able to stay in the game. After the first quarter, we were being like family, like we always are. And it’s great to have everybody cheering us on. I think we will be more used to our surroundings this time.’’

Moore has been playing club ball with Putnam, Hassett, Oltrogge and junior point guard Leilani McIntosh for quite some time. That familiarity is what helped draw her to Xavier.

There is no doubt what her role is.

“Definitely defense,’’ Moore said. “Ever since I can remember, I have been on the best player (guarding) most of the time. I take a lot of pride knowing that is what I have to do. And if I happen to struggle, I have confidence that my teammates will help push me through it. Sometimes I can’t see a screen, but they usually tell me it’s coming.’’

Gillom said she just tells Moore to go out and do what she needs to do, get the job done.

“She knows that’s her job,’’ Gillom said. “On offense, she probably could score any time she wants, but she plays well within the team concept. She’s got those drives, too and she needs to learn how to finish them.’’

Moore tumbles to the floor quite often on defense and when she is driving toward the basket after making a steal.

“I just know I need to get back up and keep going,’’ she said.

Moore had good numbers across the board during the regular season – 7.2 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 2.6 steals.

Her older sister competes in track for Pima Community College in Tucson and Moore enjoys doubling up in track for Xavier in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and the 4x100- and 4x400-meter relays.

“I think I’m naturally fast and that helps carry me across the finish line,’’ she said. “I think playing basketball helps me with my footwork for track.’’

Believe it or not, Moore also has time to have a job at a pizzeria in east Phoenix. Not delivery, but if she had to, she could get the food to the intended destination in quick order.

That’s fast, and there will be more speed when the Gators return to the gym in 2018-19.

“We will lose our bigger players (to graduation), but we will be fast, maybe one of the fastest teams in the state,’’ she said.

Moore and Putnam should be able to provide XCP with the energy it needs.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Gators confident with Hassett under basket

After each Xavier Prep basketball game, Gators senior post player Katie Hassett has a conversation with her body.

A closer look reveals that it’s significantly more than a conversation.

“After a game, my body screams at me,’’ she said.

The nature of her position draws more focus to a physical style of play – plenty of bumps and bruises and the like while mixing it up underneath the basket.

Hassett can thank her two older brothers for making her tougher and stronger.

“Anybody who grows up with brothers and sisters in their family, they know the feeling where you’re pushing each other and rolling around,’’ she said.

With the help of ice bags and plenty of stretching, the 6-foot-2 Hassett prepares herself for the next game.

And the Gators’ next game not only is the biggest of the season for Hassett, but the biggest of her career.

Playing for a state championship doesn’t come around very often, and now Hassett and the Gators have a chance to win the first title in school history on Wednesday (Feb. 28) at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena. XCP’s opponent for the 5 p.m. tip-off is defending 6A Conference champion Surprise Valley Vista. Xavier is seeded fifth, Valley Vista No. 2.

Xavier is coming off a 50-48 conquest of top-seeded Goodyear Millennium in the semifinals on Feb. 21. Hassett came up with some key rebounds down the stretch to put the Gators in position for the win.

“I’m ecstatic,’’ Hassett said. “We all worked hard for this. Coach (Jennifer) Gillom has pushed us to the limit and we are there now. It’s been our goal since Day 1. We are so excited for the school, excited for everybody.’’

Rebounding and defense are Hassett’s primary contributions to the team, but she has been known to light up the scoreboard along the way. She owes much of her offensive improvement to post-practice sessions with Gillom, a former WNBA player with the Phoenix Mercury, an Olympic Gold Medal winner and a collegiate star at Ole Miss.

“My focus is on defensive play, and if you do that, the offense will eventually come for you. Whatever I can do to help,’’ said Hassett, who averaged 9.4 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1,6 blocked shots and 1.3 steals during the regular season.

Gillom is quick to point out Hassett’s value.

“She gives us a big presence inside. Her defense and rebounding are crucial for us,’’ Gillom said. “She is a defensive intimidator and on some nights, she gives us some offense as well. Since this is her last game, I have no doubt that she will give it all she has at both ends of the floor.’’

With all of Hassett’s improvement this season, there should be basketball life after Xavier. She said she has talked with several college coaches about “walking on’’ to their program and appears to be leaning toward Cornell College, a NCAA Division III school in Iowa. It also is good in academics, and she hopes to pursue a degree that will help her as a medical researcher or perhaps as a pediatrician.

If all goes well, she will be able to tell people what it’s like to win a state basketball title.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Softball not easy when you're freezing

Spectators and players were frozen due to blustery conditions and so was the score as Xavier Prep’s softball team finished with its second 8-8 tie in as many days on Friday (Feb. 23) in the Sunrise Mountain Tournament at Pioneer Park in Peoria.

The Gators tied Peoria Centennial after opening tournament play on Thursday (Feb. 22) with an 8-8 tie against Glendale Raymond S. Kellis and a 4-2 loss to Surprise Shadow Ridge.

Xavier was due to play one, perhaps two more games, as the tourney winds down on Saturday (Feb. 24), again at Pioneer Park.

Xavier scored twice in the first inning and four more times in the second for what appeared to be a comfortable lead against Centennial.

Mercedes Silva looked good in the early going in the pitching circle, particularly since she was making her third start of the tournament.

But Centennial rallied for an 8-6 lead by scoring eight runs in the fourth inning, including a wind-blown solo home run. With a time limit looming, Xavier scored twice to tie it and was getting close to winning it before leaving the bases loaded in its half of the fourth.

Xavier coach Carrie Markham is using this tournament to judge her players in more competitive situations, moving them around to different positions in the process to determine their versatility.

The Gators won’t have much time to rest up as they jump directly into 6A Conference Premier Region play during the coming week. They play back-to-back road games against Gilbert Perry and Chandler Hamilton on Monday (Feb. 26) and Tuesday (Feb. 27), respectively.

Stronger tennis teams keep Gators on their toes

Times have changed for high school girls’ tennis.

Xavier Prep coach Laurie Martin recalled the days “when you only had to worry about maybe one other team. Now there’s at least five that could end up winning a state championship.’’

So that means Xavier will need to be close to the top of its game more often as it heads through the 2018 season that began on Thursday (Feb. 22).

The Gators began the season on a strong note, defeating visiting Mesa Mountain View 7-2. Xavier returns to action on Monday (Feb. 26) with a road encounter against Gilbert High.

“We have good talent this year and have good depth. We’re going to have to be ready every time we go out there,’’ Martin said.

One of the highlights of the opening match was the play of junior Emily Good, the Gators’ No. 6 singles player. Despite battling the flu, she gutted it out, according to Martin, with a 6-2, 6-1 win over her Mountain View opponent.

Junior Tristanne Dechoux will take the No. 1 spot on most occasions, with sophomore Erica Stutz at No. 2. Those two also combine as Xavier’s top doubles team.

Four other key players are senior Caroline Armknecht, sophomore Emily Even, senior Maddy Corley and sophomore Lorelei Glidden. Martin hopes to have junior Jessica Mirmelli (injury) back in the lineup soon as well as senior Kate Straneva, who is on a school trip.

Thursday’s result

Xavier Prep 7, Mesa Mountain View 2


Tristanne Dechoux (X) lost to Mountain View 6-2, 6-0.

Erica Stutz (X) def. Mountain View 6-0, 6-2.

Emily Even (X) def. Mountain View 6-3, 6-1.

Maddy Corley (X) def. Mountain View 6-0, 6-0.

Lorelei Glidden (X) def. Mountain View 6-0, 6-0.

Emiy Good (X) def. Mountain View 6-2, 6-1.


Dechoux-Stutz (X) lost to Mountain View 8-5.

Even-Corley (X) def. Mountain View 8-0.

Glidden-Caroline Armknecht (X) def. Mountain View 8-1.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Gators on the verge of first basketball title

The security guard who was monitoring the hallway outside the girls’ basketball locker room at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena watched a group of players jumping up and down and screaming at the top of their lungs as they sprinted past him.

“I’ve seen so many teams go through here with tears. It’s nice to see one with smiles once in awhile,’’ he said.

Xavier’s Gators say amen to that, because they are the team wearing the smiles.

The way they began Wednesday night’s (Feb. 21) 6A Conference semifinal, one would not have believed that the 5th-seeded Gators would have much of a chance against top-seeded Goodyear Millennium.

Every Xavier shot seemed to hit the rim and bounce away. Could the Gators withstand the cold spell?

The team made its jitters disappear late in the first half, when it battled back to trail by just four at halftime after facing a double-digit deficit.

The second half was a fight to the finish. When Xavier senior forward Katie Hassett corralled a Millennium miss as the final seconds ticked away, reality set in and the Gators had held on for a 50-48 victory to earn a shot at the school’s first-ever hoops title.

Xavier will face second-seeded defending state champion Surprise Valley Vista for the state championship next Wednesday (Feb. 28) at Wells Fargo. Tipoff is 5 p.m. Valley Vista defeated third-seeded Gilbert 59-44 earlier on Wednesday.

How great was this?

Gators coach Jennifer Gillom was happy to place a phone call to a special person – her mother, Ella, who was back home out of state.

“I said, “Mom, we did it!’ ’’ Gillom said. “She usually goes to bed early, but she wanted to stay up for this one.’’

Only four Xavier players put points on the board, but they got the job done.

Senior forward Montana Oltrogge led the way with 22 points, and junior point guard Leilani McIntosh had a huge second half. She scored 14 of her 16 points after intermission, including a pair of 3-pointers.

And even though Hassett did not score, she came up with some key rebounds and played solid defense against Millennium’s sizable front line. The Tigers were looking for their second straight appearance in the title game.

Hassett was out briefly after tweaking a knee in the fourth quarter, but had the biggest rebound of the game came when her grab of an offensive miss allowed Xavier to maintain possession with a little less than a minute to play.

Oltrogge was the recipient of Hassett’s board work, completing the sequence by getting a pass and scoring on a reverse layup to make it 50-48 with 36 seconds left.

Hassett walked out of the locker room afterward with an ice bag taped to her knee.

Asked how she was doing, she responded with a thumbs-up signal and said, “We’re good.’’

Oltrogge, too, had ice on her legs to help calm down a case of the shin splints that had been bothering her during the second half of the season and forced her to miss about two weeks.

“It’s not nearly as bad as it had been,’’ she said, agreeing that the extra rest had helped.

And her reaction to the win?

“I’m still kind of speechless,’’ she said. “My first three years, we went out in the first round. Now to be here and actually have this happen, it’s amazing.’’

Oltrogge and Gillom agreed that the Gators were a bundle of nerves when the game began.

“Our nerves were all over the place,’’ Gillom said. “When we were down by only four (at halftime) against a good team like Millennium, we knew we had a chance. It says a lot about the heart this team has. It was a matter of keeping the faith.’’

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Hook, Xavier celebrate another soccer crown

Earning a soccer championship requires a lot of skill, a player’s survival instinct with hand-to-hand combat and, yes, even head-to-head combat.

Xavier Prep’s Nicole Hook can attest to the latter scenario. She was right in the middle of all the action in Saturday’s (Feb. 10) 6A state championship game against Gilbert Perry.

After sitting out for about 17 minutes with what appeared to be a broken nose late in the first half, she returned to the field at Gilbert Campo Verde High. In the second half, she headed a ball into the net off a corner kick from teammate Abby Hubbard with 22:32 left in regulation and it was enough for the Gators to hold on for a 1-0 victory, giving them their second straight title and 10th overall.

Top-seeded Xavier finished 15-3-2 and No. 2 seed Perry finished 22-3. Perry had been the only Arizona team to defeat the Gators, and the other two losses were to California teams in a holiday tournament.

Xavier and Perry traded numerous scoring opportunities through the first half. It appeared that Perry might have received a break when Hook was forced to leave with blood dripping from her nose after she and a Perry player smacked heads. Xavier head athletic trainer Laurie White worked as quickly as she could to get Hook back in the lineup, but that would not come until Hook passed concussion protocol.

Hook said she was a bit worried at first if the bleeding could be stopped and she could return.

Xavier coach Barb Chura also was concerned “about the anchor of our back line who had been playing so dominant.’’

Anchor of the back line and a key element of Xavier’s “set pieces’’ – plays off free kicks, corner kicks or throw-ins.

During the season, Hook had scored on such a play on a few occasions.

Another opportunity came at the 22:32 mark of the second half, when Hubbard’s kick sailed into the air space in front of the goal and Hook used her height to score the most important goal of her career.

“It was a tough game, and it was a perfect (corner) kick by Abby,’’ said Hook, who was bumped again during the game’s final moments.

Of closing out her prep career in such a manner, Hook said, “It was amazing. I couldn’t ask for a better team to do this with.’’

After Hook’s goal, it was up to Xavier senior goalkeeper Kinsey Ehmann and the Gators’ defense to try to hold on.

Perry had several corner kicks and free kicks, but could not get the equalizer.

Xavier tried to get and maintain possession any way it could.

With about 10 minutes left, a Perry shot skittered across the front of the goal but did not go in, instead rolling just out of trouble on the left side.

“It was a little scary, but I have a great defense backing me up,’’ Ehmann said.

The clock indicated 8:27 when junior Kyla Ferry attempted to leap over a hunched-over Perry player and get to the ball in midair. Ferry was bumped during the process and whirled around in the air like a rotor from a helicopter. The crowd oohed and aahed on that one.

Ehmann turned away a free kick and a corner kick with less than a minute left. She got the ball with :10 showing, looked back at the clock and booted the ball high in the air. It was her fourth straight shutout of the playoffs and Chura pumped her fists in the air.

“It was a good feeling,’’ Ehmann said. “I was really happy that we won.’’

Xavier lost seven players to graduation from last year’s title team and had just a few starters back this season and quite a few young players.

“This was amazing, a real testament to all of their hard work,’’ said Chura, who joined assistant coach Rafael Rios for team picture with the trophy afterward. “It is really hard to get here. I don’t think people realize that.’’

Gators seeded 5th, meet Horizon in opener

Xavier Prep’s basketball team was announced on Saturday (Feb. 10) as the fifth seed in the 6A Conference state tournament that begins on Wednesday (Feb. 14).

The Gators, who finished 22-5 during the regular season, will open play at the Activity Center against No. 12 seed Phoenix Horizon. Xavier defeated Horizon 71-43 in the Highland Thanksgiving tournament on Nov. 24 in Gilbert.

The winner will advance to a quarterfinal game on Feb. 17 against the winner of a first-round game between No. 13 Phoenix Mountain Pointe and No. 4 Gilbert Highland.

6A Conference state basketball tournament

First round, Wednesday, Feb. 14. All games, 6:30 p.m.

(Seedings in parentheses)

Chandler High (16) at Goodyear Millennium (1), Tucson High (9) at Mesa Red Mountain (8), Phoenix Horizon (12) at Phoenix Xavier Prep (5), Phoenix Mountain Pointe (13) at Gilbert Highland (4), Mesa Dobson (14) at Gilbert High (3), Chandler Hamilton (11) at Scottsdale Desert Mountain (6), Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor (10) at Phoenix Pinnacle (7), Phoenix North (15) at Surprise Valley Vista (2).

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

XCP finishes 22-5, awaits state seeding

Xavier Prep’s basketball team finished its regular season on Tuesday night (Feb. 6) with a 58-42 road victory over Catholic rival Phoenix St. Mary’s.

Xavier finished the season at 22-5 under head coach Jennifer Gillom.

The Gators could end up anywhere from 4 through 6 when the 6A Conference state tournament begins on Feb. 14. That means they would have a home game in the first round on Feb. 14. If the Gators were to win that first one, they also likely would have another home game on Feb.  17.

Semifinals are Feb. 21 and finals are Feb. 28, both at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena.

The final bracketing will be determined in part by the outcome of eight “play-in’’ games for teams 9-24 in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s power rankings.

The top eight seeds, of which Xavier is one, will know their fates on Saturday (Feb. 10) in a bracket show that will be streamed live on

Xavier is led by senior inside players Montana Oltrogge and Katie Hassett, and junior guards Leilani McIntosh, Paris Moore and Addison Putnam. Oltrogge sat out the last few weeks of the regular season with shin splints, so it is unknown what her status will be for the playoffs.

6A Conference automatic qualifiers

(Seeds will be determined on Feb. 10.)

Scottsdale Desert Mountain

Gilbert High

Gilbert Highland

Goodyear Millennium

Phoenix Pinnacle

Mesa Red Mountain

Surprise Valley Vista

Phoenix Xavier Prep

Play-in games

(Thursday, Feb. 8 – seedings in parentheses)

Phoenix Desert Vista (24) at Tucson High (9)

Chandler High (17) at Gilbert Perry (16)

Yuma Cibola (18) at Phoenix North (15)

Mesa Westwood (21) at Phoenix Horizon (12)

Tucson Rincon/University (22) at Chandler Hamilton (11)

Avondale Westview (20) at Phoenix Mountain Pointe (13)

Glendale Copper Canyon (19) at Mesa Dobson (14)

Anthem Boulder Creek (23) at Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor (10)

Gators survive duel in semi, play for soccer title

Xavier Prep has had a long history of soccer excellence, and it showed again on Tuesday night (Feb. 6) in the 6A Conference semifinals at Campo Verde High in Gilbert.

The Gators gave themselves a chance to win their second straight state championship by making Kyla Ferry’s first-half goal stand up against Chandler Hamilton for a 1-0 victory. It was the second 1-0 victory for the Gators over Hamilton this season.

Top-seeded Xavier advances to Saturday’s (Feb. 10) 11 a.m. title game against No. 2 Gilbert Perry at Campo Verde. Perry (22-2) handed the Gators (14-3-2) one of their losses, 3-0, on Jan. 9 at Perry. Perry advanced by defeating Phoenix Pinnacle on penalty kicks 5-3 after a 1-1 tie in regulation and overtime.

Hamilton had several good chances to score in the semi, but was stopped by Xavier senior goalkeeper Kinsey Ehmann or was whistled for offside on a few other occasions while trying to get a step in front of the blue and white-clad Gators.

As the first-half clock began to wind down, Xavier needed a spark.

It came from just about out of nowhere when sophomore Jocelyn Rupp sent a high-arcing ball toward the goal on a free kick. It came down just to the right of the goal and the ball was re-directed to Ferry, who was standing near the front of the net.

Ferry was able to send the ball past the goalkeeper and Xavier had a 1-0 lead with 6:48 left in the half.

Asked about the play afterward, Ferry said, “The ball came in and I think Abby (Hubbard, senior) headed the ball over and it landed right in front of me. Fortunately, I was able to finish it off. I was thinking, “Thank you for the gift.’ ’’

In the second half, Xavier became more aggressive, particularly on defense. Hamilton still had its chances, but had to work much harder for them.

Ferry, a junior who has committed to Colorado, is listed as a forward but is versatile enough to play in other spots, particularly midfield, where XCP coach Barb Chura had her working some of the time against Hamilton.

“We learned that (versatility) when she was a freshman. She was all over the place,’’ Chura said. “She has that ability to win balls in the air.’’

The coach repeated her claim that Ferry not only is one of the best players in Arizona, but also in the nation.

The contest was physical throughout, with players from both sides hitting the ground.

Some players might turn to the official for a call, but for the most part, the Gators got up and kept going. Freshman midfielder Olelade Adebayo was an example. She tumbled to the ground but got right up and went after the ball.

As Hamilton moved in for an attempt to tie, the ball headed toward the goal. It appeared that the ball might have just enough space to get past her and into the upper part of the net. But she jumped and reached high to flick the ball off her fingertips and back over the net. Crisis averted.

The Huskies rushed the net again as the game slipped away. They had another free kick and sent the ball toward the net. This time, senior defender Nicole Hook used her height to her advantage and headed the ball outside.

“When the ball drops in the box, you never know what’s going to happen, so you have to be ready,’’ Chura said.

“In the second half, we knew it was one of those games where we were just going to have to hold on.’’

The 2017-18 edition of the Gators is one of the more blue-collar teams Chura has had, she said.

“The older players have helped bring the younger ones along. They believe in them,’’ she said.

The win took a lot of energy out of the Gators, but they will have plenty of time to regroup.

“We worked hard today, and we are going to try to come out and play our best on Saturday,’’ Ferry said.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Another shutout sends Gators to soccer semis

Close, yet so far away.

Xavier Prep’s soccer team can see the 6A Conference state title on the horizon, but a lot of work remains for the Gators if they are to win a second trophy in a row.

The top-seeded team earned its second 3-0 playoff victory in as many tries in a quarterfinal game at home on Saturday (Feb. 3), putting away No. 9 Gilbert Highland. Xavier had defeated Phoenix Mountain Pointe 3-0 in the opening round on Jan. 30.

Xavier (13-3-2) advances to the semifinals on Tuesday (Feb. 6) and will meet No. 5 Chandler Hamilton (14-5-3) at Gilbert Campo Verde at 5 p.m. The other semi will feature No.3 Phoenix Pinnacle (15-2-2) against No. 2 Gilbert Perry (21-2) at 7 p.m.

Xavier defeated Hamilton 1-0 at Xavier on Jan. 9.

The Gators scored two of their goals in the first half, by senior Abby Hubbard and sophomore Taylor Brown, and picked up the final tally with 24:59 left in the second half by senior Nicole Hook.

Senior goalkeeper Kinsey Ehmann made some key stops in the second half to help preserve the shutout.

All three XCP goals came on “set pieces’’ (plays) where an open play such as a corner throw, a corner kick or a free kick is put into play near the goal and is either redirected or headed into the net.

“We are good at those (set pieces). We practice them all the time, because you never know when you are going to need something like that,’’ said Xavier coach Barb Chura.

The coach knew that Highland (15-7-1) would be a formidable opponent, based on a game between Highland and Xavier on Dec. 11 and won by the Gators 2-0.

“I think we are better now than we were then,’’ she said. “We did a good job today capitalizing on our chances. We kept the ball in their end of the field most of the game.’’

Xavier hoops runs into roadblock

It was one of those nights that you hope never happens but know that it probably will because no team is perfect.

Not many things go right, and you end up in a place where you don’t want to be – on the losing end.

No matter what Xavier Prep’s basketball team did on Friday night (Feb. 2), nothing seemed to go right.

Host Phoenix Pinnacle wasn’t exactly poetry in motion, but compared to the Gators, it was.

The Pioneers were in constant motion at both ends of the floor, and the Gators often stood around like statues. They watched as Pinnacle crashed the boards and when the Pioneers applied defensive pressure, seldom came to the ball to help out their teammates.

The contest remained close most of the way, but Pinnacle was able to come away with a 58-53 victory.

Xavier had a five-game winning streak snapped and slipped to 21-5. The team plays its final game of the regular season on Tuesday night (Feb. 6) at Catholic rival Phoenix St. Mary’s. Pinnacle also is 21-5.

About the only things that worked for XCP were the shooting touch of junior Addison Putnam (five 3-pointers), who scored 17 points, and the play of junior Leilani McIntosh, who totaled 16.

Xavier led by a point after the first quarter but was unable to pull away. Pinnacle had a two-point advantage at halftime.

Pinnacle led by eight with about three minutes to go in the third quarter, but just two entering the fourth.

The Gators led by two early in the fourth on a three-pointer by junior Truly Helton. That would be Xavier’s last lead of the night.