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 12, 2021

True grit carries Gators past Pinnacle in hoops

 The next time Xavier Prep’s Gators stop by their favorite salon, they may discover a bit of grit under their fingernails. They can ask their manicure person to make sure the grit is not removed.

The Gators need grit right now.

It is needed as the condensed basketball regular-season schedule enters its closing phase.

Xavier, playing with courage and resolve in the second of three home games this week, went nose to nose with the Pioneers from Phoenix Pinnacle in a tough, hard-fought contest in which the Gators emerged with a 36-33 victory.

Xavier, ninth in the latest Arizona Interscholastic Association power points rankings, is 5-3, while No. 13 Pinnacle is 5-5. Xavier is back in the Activity Center on Friday night (Feb. 12) with a contest against No. 6 Phoenix Sandra Day O’Connor (6-1). Sandra Day O’Connor’s only loss is to Chandler Hamilton, while XCP has dropped two to the Huskies.

Pinnacle held a 23-22 lead at the half, but in the third quarter apparently decided its chances for success would be better served by slowing the pace.

Used to a quicker pace, the Gators managed to adjust and took a 30-26 lead entering the fourth quarter by scoring the last three baskets by freshmen Sarah Miller and Maureen Ulrich and senior Tori Saucedo.

The Xavier defense asserted itself in the third quarter, limiting the Pioneers to a scant three points.

Pinnacle only scored seven points in the fourth, but actually held a lead early in the quarter on a three-pointer by freshman Mia Singstock and a two-pointer by Singstock.

A steal by Saucedo led to a bucket by Ulrich that allowed Xavier to take a 34-33 lead. With the clock winding down, Pinnacle felt it necessary to foul in an attempt to get the ball.

Nesland went to the line on two separate occasions. She made the first but missed the second on both, but Ulrich grabbed the rebound on the one miss and junior Toni Garcia got the ball on the second.

The Gators had survived.

Coach Jennifer Gillom had to take stock in what had just happened.

“I’ve got a headache,’’ she said, wiping her brow.

“It was a good win. I saw poise on offense, even though we didn’t knock down some of the shots we needed. Our team defense was good and we got some crucial rebounds.’’

Garcia and sophomore Hannah Young and Ulrich were pivotal in the latter category. With sophomore forward-guard Mia Davis sidelined at least temporarily along with senior forward Sophia Alameddin and senior guard Lauren Etsitty, Xavier is going to need more people to crash the boards. It worked pretty well on this occasion.

Nesland led the Gators with 15 points and Ulrich had 10.

Gillom was quite pleased that Ulrich stood out in several areas, giving the coach more flexibility with her lineup.

“She helped us, particularly on defense,’’ Gillom said. “She is starting to turn into a very good player for us. Her work ethic is impeccable.’’

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