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.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

First basketball title remains elusive for Gators

It took a long time for the door to open and Xavier Prep basketball coach Jennifer Gillom to walk out.

“I don’t think I like this locker room,’’ she said.

It wasn’t difficult to understand.

On Tuesday night (Feb. 26), her team played out of the same locker room at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena as it had a year earlier, Gillom again was forced to console her players, embrace them and dry their tears after a loss in the 6A Conference state championship game.

Xavier Prep coach Jennifer Gillom consoles two of her seniors, Paris Rasheed-Moore, left, and Addie Putnam (Photos by Sr. Lynn Winsor).

A year ago, Surprise Valley Vista raised the title trophy. This time, it was Premier Region rival Chandler Hamilton, which defeated the Gators 45-33.

So the first state basketball title for Xavier remains at arm's length.

Xavier and Hamilton, which had split their two-game regular-season series, both finished with 26-5 records. Hamilton was the top seed entering the tournament, Xavier No. 2.

“I told the players I was proud of them,’’ Gillom said. “They worked so hard to get here. A lot of people said we wouldn’t be able to get here again because we were too small, but we made it.

“I hate it for the seniors who were trying to get this title.’’

Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Director David Hines presents the 6A state runner-up trophy to Xavier players.
From the beginning of the game, it appeared the Gators were out of sync. Most of their shots were not falling, they were being outrebounded and their trademark pressure defense was not as effective. That’s the downside of playing a team for a third time. And Hamilton unleashed a pressurized defensive approach of its own, which had moderate results.

Hamilton led 21-17 at halftime and Xavier was fortunate to be that close, because Hamilton wasn’t shooting all that well, either.

“Some of it was hard to see,’’ Gillom said. “We had worked on certain things the whole year, but we had trouble applying it. What got us here was our demise.’’

Each team made 12 field goals and Hamilton made one more 3-pointer. So what was the source of the scoring discrepancy?

Look no further than the fouls column and the resulting trips to the free-throw line. Or in Xavier’s case, a lack thereof.

Xavier was whistled for 21 fouls in the game, 10 in the fourth quarter, while Hamilton had 14 fouls, only four in the fourth quarter. Hamilton was 9 of 14 from the line, including eight in the final 1:28, when a frustrated Gillom received a technical, while Xavier converted 2 of its 3 chances.

“It’s hard to play defense when you’re putting people at the free-throw line,’’ Gillom said. “Thirty times (Hamilton actually was 17 of 29) – that’s a lot.’’ Xavier made 6 of 10 for the game.

Xavier players and coaches gather with the school's latest trophy.
Xavier senior guard Paris Rasheed-Moore, who struggled in the Gators’ semifinal win, made up for it in this one with a marvelous all-around effort. She led the team with 13 points, including a pair of 3-pointers, 12 rebounds and 7 steals.

Senior point guard Leilani McIntosh had a rare off-night on offense. She did not score in the first half and finished with five points, nine below her average. She also had seven rebounds.

McIntosh gave Xavier its second lead of the game 24-23 (the Gators also scored the first basket of the game) on a 3-point play with 3:54 left in the third quarter. Hamilton scored seven in a row for a 30-24 lead going into the final quarter.

So now it’s time to start thinking about summer ball.

“We’ll have to be ready to get to work,’’ Gillom said.

Xavier will lose seniors Bianca Nava, Cara Coffman, Addie Putnam, McIntosh, Rasheed-Moore and Truly Helton.

Players expected to return are Elysia Fleetwood (who will be a senior), Mackenzie Coder (junior), Ellie Higgins (sophomore), Tanya Barakat (senior), Rachel Orr (junior), Sophie Sash (junior), Victoria Saucedo (junior), Kailey Appel (junior) and Toni Garcia (sophomore).

6A championship

Hamilton 45, Xavier Prep 33

Xavier Prep   7  10   7    9 – 33

Hamilton     14    7   9  15 – 45

Xavier scoring (FG/FT/TP) – Elysia Fleetwood 3-0-6, Addie Putnam 2-2-6, Leilani McIntosh 2-1-5, Paris Rasheed-Moore 4-3-13, Truly Helton 0-0-0, Mackenzie Coder 1-0-3, Victoria Saucedo 0-0-0, Kailey Appel 0-0-0.

Three-point field goals – Rasheed-Moore 2, Coder 1.

Rebounds – Rasheed-Moore 12, McIntosh 7.

Assists – Rasheed-Moore 2.

Steals – Rasheed-Moore 7, McIntosh 2.

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