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.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Gators finish 3rd in Lady X basketball tourney

 It was billed as the 8th Annual  Lady X (Extravaganza) basketball tournament, meaning just about anything could happen with all of the various X factors. Eight of the state’s top high school girls’ teams were gathered at Westwood High in Mesa for the two-day event on Friday (Nov. 4) and Saturday (Nov. 5).

Xavier Prep’s Gators were seeded second out of eight teams. They won their first two on Friday, over No. 5 seed Gilbert Perry (49-46) and host Westwood (60-44), the No. 7 seed.

The biggest challenge came in a Saturday morning game, with Xavier falling to third-seeded Goodyear Millennium 32-27 in a physical game and then coming back in the third-place game to defeat No. 8 seed Gilbert Mesquite 50-40.

Fourth-seeded Chandler Seton Catholic defeated Millennium, the three-time defending 5A Conference state champion and defending tournament champion, 40-37, for this year’s Lady X title.

Counting two games in the Thunderbird High Girls Summer League in north Phoenix, Xavier is now 5-1. The Gators will resume play there on Tuesday (June 8) against Laveen Cesar Chavez at 8 p.m.

Millennium was the best defensive team that Xavier has faced this summer. The Tigers are well-coached (by Kevin Thomas) and employ a very physical defense that attempts to bump opponents out of their comfort zone, frustrating them in the process.

That is essentially what happened to Xavier. The defense forced the Gators into some shots they didn’t want to take, and on most of the ones they did want to take, they were off-target.

It seemed like just none of the Gators could find the hoop. Usually when a few players can’t hit, there is someone there to pick up the slack. That didn’t happen here.

Still, the Gators hung in there. They were down by 10 at the half, and cut the margin to 28-27 on sophomore Maureen (Mo) Ulrich’s drive to the basket with about seven minutes to go. Xavier could not gain further traction after that.

Xavier coach Jennifer Gillom admitted that her players were knocked off stride by the physical nature of the game.

“It is hard to play with that much contact,’’ she said. “We tried to fight through it, but weren’t able to make it all the way back. You’re going to have to face this kind of defense at some point, so I guess now is a good time to try to get used to it.’’

Of the Gators’ shots not falling in general, Gillom said, “Shots can happen that way. You have to be able to learn to make adjustments.’’

Against Mesquite, Xavier jumped to a 9-0 lead out of the gate. The lead had been trimmed to four by halftime, but the Gators went on a 19-5 run in the early stages of the second half. Key plays were a pair of three-pointers by sophomore guard Sarah Miller and a one trey by Ulrich.

“We still have to work on playing as a team, learning each other’s tendencies,’’ Gillom said.

Miller led the Gators in scoring in both Saturday games, with 10 and 14, respectively. Miller was named to the all-tournament team.

Miller, Ulrich and sophomore point guard Dominique Nesland as well as senior forward Toni Garcia have looked good thus far in the summer.

And the team is expected to receive assistance from CeCe Mlat, a 6-foot-6 player who is an incoming freshman. She showed good shot-blocking  ability in the tournament.

“Just in the few games she played, you could see she already is getting a better idea of what to do,’’ Gillom said.

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