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.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Gators reach title game; New! Photos added!

Senior point guard Leilani McIntosh is known as a great team player for Xavier Prep’s basketball team.

But she also is more than capable of taking over a game, as she did on Thursday afternoon (Feb. 21) in a 6A Conference semifinal game against Surprise Valley Vista at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena.

It was something the Gators really needed as they earned a trip to the state championship game for the second straight year with a 65-51 victory, dethroning the two-time defending champs and gaining bit of revenge for a loss in last year’s title contest.

Xavier, the second seed, raised its overall record to 26-4, while sixth-seeded Valley Vista finished with a 25-5 mark.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom instructs her players during a timeout (Photos by Sr. Lynn Winsor).

Let the celebration begin! Excited players and coaches are going back to the 6A state championship game.

Xavier spirit line performs during a break in the action.
Xavier will meet top-seeded Chandler Hamilton (25-5), its Premier Region rival, at Wells Fargo on Tuesday night (Feb. 26), with a 6 p.m. tipoff. The teams split their two game regular-season series. Hamilton defeated fourth-seeded Phoenix Pinnacle 50-43 in the other semi later Thursday night.

McIntosh led all scorers with 29 points against Valley Vista, including 20 in the second half and 11 of those in the fourth quarter to help keep the Monsoon at arm’s length. She also had a pair of 3-point baskets.

Earlier in the day, she had been selected as the Girls High School Athlete of the Week by the media outlet for her efforts in the first round against Phoenix Desert Vista and the quarterfinal round against Chandler High.

She drove around and through Valley Vista’s defense, and had a big assist with slightly less than four minutes left in the game when she found guard Addie Putnam when Putnam cut from the corner along the baseline toward the basket.

McIntosh was a perfect 7-for-7 at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter and nine of 10 overall, which in itself was a significant part of the story line.

Valley Vista was whistled for 26 fouls, Xavier just 15. Valley Vista had two players foul out, including sophomore star Marisa Davis, who was never really a factor with just five points and two rebounds. The Monsoon had three other players with four fouls.

Gators coach Jennifer Gillom said she knew Valley Vista would have a size advantage, so her team would have to counteract that with its speed.

“We had to attack them, try to make them try to stay with us, and get them to foul,’’ she said.

Putnam also was on target from the line, converting eight of 11 and finishing with 17 points.

Xavier was outrebounded 40-22, but got the caroms when needed. Senior guard Paris Rasheed-Moore had six, Putnam five.

Other key contributors were senior guard Truly Helton and sophomore guard Kailey Appel.

Helton, known more for her defense, scored seven points, including a 3-pointer to help get the Gators on track in the early going. Appel, a transfer from Mesa Red Mountain, hit two free throws and played good defense.

Gillom said that Appel, who missed much of the season with a wrist injury, has good court sense and has seen her playing time increase.

“She has a high basketball IQ. She knows where to be,’’ Gillom said.

McIntosh said the Gators “knew we would have to stop Marisa and Jenna (Isai, freshman), try to get them in foul trouble. They had the size on us, but most teams we’ve played this year have had more size.’’

Isai had a good all-around game with 16 points and 12 rebounds.

McIntosh lives in the west Valley and knows some of the Valley Vista players from club ball.

“I knew a lot of their tendencies,’’ she said.

Defeating the defending champs removed a big obstacle, Gillom said.

“They (Gators) remember last year and they wanted to beat this team so bad,’’ she said. “We left it all on the court.’’

Said McIntosh: “It was amazing. It was basically the reverse of last year.’’

6A semifinal

Xavier Prep 65, Valley Vista 51

Valley Vista 10 17 14 10 – 51

Xavier Prep 13 11 18 23 – 65

Xavier scoring (FG/FT/TP) – Elysia Fleetwood 3-3-9, Truly Helton 3-0-7, Addie Putnam 4-8-17, Leilani McIntosh 9-9-29, Paris Rasheed-Moore 0-1-1, Mackenzie Coder 0-0-0, Kailey Appel 0-2-2.
Three-point field goals – McIntosh 2, Helton 1, Putnam 1.

Rebounds – Rasheed-Moore 6, Putnam 5.

Assists – Rasheed-Moore 4.

Steals – McIntosh 5, Rasheed-Moore 5, Putnam 4.

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