Bio

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 AIA365.com, the web site of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Gators send a message, and it's not SOS

While many Xavier Prep students were participating in an annual ski trip to Colorado’s high country on Friday (Jan. 18), the school’s basketball team was back in Arizona, seeking a lift as it attempted to climb Mount Hamilton.

Hamilton’s Huskies were the top-ranked team on the Arizona Interscholastic Associaton’s power points list, and had easily defeated a tough No. 2-ranked Gilbert Perry team on Thursday (Jan. 17). No. 3 Xavier had lost to Perry on Jan. 8, so the odds were stacked against the Gators.

During pre-game warm-ups in the Hamilton gym, Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom could sense something different about her team. The Gators had a good week of practice, and appeared to have their focus.

“I felt it from the beginning,’’ Gillom said.

She was spot-on.

Xavier trailed only twice, with the first basket of the game and the first basket of the second half. But the Gators otherwise handled every challenge thrown at them and with what might be considered their best game of the season, were able to plant the victory flag atop Mount Hamilton, 49-40.

The Gators are 19-3 overall and are in a three-way tie with Hamilton (17-5) and Perry (15-6) for the 6A Conference Premier Region lead at 3-1.

Gillom had more of a bounce in her step as she headed toward the locker room to celebrate afterward.

“I have been waiting so long for that (Xavier) team to show up,’’ she said. “The leadership we got from our seniors, our execution on offense and defense . . . I haven’t seen that happen for a long time.’’

Xavier had led just 20-19 at halftime, but that one-point differential was a BIG point.

“It sent a message that we were able to play with them (Hamilton) and would be able to continue to play with them,’’ Gillom said.

The senior trio of point guard Leilani McIntosh and guards Paris Rasheed-Moore and Addie Putnam were the driving force.

McIntosh scored five points to keep Xavier afloat in the early part of the fourth quarter and finished with 15 points. Rasheed-Moore, who had 12 points, drove to the basket and made a key three-point play with 1:58 left in the game to increase the Gators’ lead to six. And Putnam got 10 points, all in the second half.

Just as important was the effort of junior post player Tanya Barakat in the second quarter.

With junior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood saddled with three first-quarter fouls, Gillom put the 6-foot Barakat in the game to provide more of a physical presence around the basket.

Barakat responded with back-to-back baskets and came up with a handful of big rebounds.

Gillom had watched Barakat in practice during the week, liked what she saw and decided to give her a chance.

“That (game performance) was huge,’’ Gillom said. “She is really coming along and is starting to believe in herself.’’

It is something all of the Gators need in the coming weeks. To look in the mirror and remember what it took for them to defeat Hamilton.

Xavier will play next on Thursday (Jan. 24) with a non-region home game against Mesa Mountain View, then have a rematch with Perry at home on Friday (Jan. 25).


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