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, November 29, 2019

Xavier turns things around in hoops tourney

Xavier Prep’s Gators began their appearance on Friday (Nov. 29) in the annual Scorpion Shootout at Goodyear Desert Edge with a bright and early basketball game at 9 a.m., followed shortly thereafter by another at lunch time.

And the experience certainly was more enjoyable than Tuesday’s (Nov. 26) season-opening loss to Phoenix Mountain Pointe.

Xavier defeated Surprise Shadow Ridge 58-26 in the first game and outdueled a scrappy Buckeye Verrado squad 51-42 in the second contest to advance to Saturday’s (Nov. 30) semifinal round. Xavier will play that contest at 4:30 p.m. A win would put the Gators in the tournament championship game at 7:30, and a loss would put them in the third-place game, also at 7:30.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom knows she likely will have to endure a rollercoaster ride, at least in the early going, until her young team can play with more consistency.

“It’s gonna take time,’’ she said. “This (Saturday) was a lot better than that first game.’’

Following the 19-point loss to Mountain Pointe, Gillom searched her brain to try and find the best way to prioritize what to cover in practice, and especially how much to avoid overload. Xavier has only two seniors, nine juniors, one sophomore and three freshmen. Virtually all of them had little or no experience as starters last season.

“I wrote down some things and I was thinking, was I asking too much too early?’’ she said. “It comes down to that I believe in this team, and they are going to “get it.’ ’’

Xavier got a strong effort from senior post player Tanya Barakat in the first game with several key baskets, and senior guard-forward Elysia Fleetwood scored 11 of her game-high 15 points in the third quarter of the second game to give the Gators the edge against Verrado.

Fleetwood had been slowed by foul trouble in the first half, but in the second half, “played a lot smarter and that enabled her to stay in the game," Gillom said.

Xavier connected on seven 3-point shots, three by Fleetwood, two by freshman Mia Davis and two by junior wing Kailey Appel. And freshman Hannah Young helped Davis and Barakat with some timely rebounding in the second game.

“They (Verrado) were a tough team and made us work hard,’’ Gillom said. “That’s just what we needed. In the second half, we had better execution and better poise.’’

Xavier Prep 51, Verrado 42

Xavier scoring – Elysia Fleetwood 15, Mia Davis 13, Mackenzie Coder 7, Kailey Appel 6, Hannah Young 4, Tanya Barakat 3, Victoria Saucedo 2, Sienna Cherwinski 1.

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