Rincon was down by 12 points midway through the third quarter, its vision of an outright 5A Sonoran title clouded with the possibility Cholla would steal a win and force a tie atop the standings.
Cholla leading scorer Destyni Panaya got her fourth foul early in the last period and the Chargers’ fate turned.
Rincon coach Darryl Carlson stuck with the same five players all game, but the Rangers’ potential fatigue turned into adrenaline in the final period.
A 17-3 run, aided by junior standout Loraya Rocha pushing the tempo and sophomore Maddie Greene aggressively drawing fouls, allowed Rincon to pull out a 42-39 win at Cholla only 18 days after the Rangers won by 23 at home against the Chargers.
“Our girls are tired because we only played five,” Carlson said when asked about the impact of Panaya sitting with four fouls through the first few minutes of the fourth quarter. “We just play. Whoever is in there, we just play. We don’t care who we’re playing against. We don’t care which five is out there … play your best, do your best.”
Panaya, who averages 15.3 points a game, finished with nine points. When she finally entered in the fourth quarter, she immediately scored on a strong drive to the basket. It was one of only two baskets made by the Chargers in the fourth quarter. Rincon outscored Cholla 15-4 in the final period.
Rincon junior Loraya Rocha talks about earning the outright 5A Sonoran title after a hard-fought 42-39 win at Cholla tonight. pic.twitter.com/a4USI041aJ
“We were up eight going into the fourth quarter. We even outscored them by one in the third quarter,” Cholla coach Vincent Lombardi said with frustration. “I told them we were in a good spot and then (Panaya) got the foul. I don’t know how she got it. … (Rocha) started taking over. She started driving a lot. They were clearing out for her.”
Rocha, a junior with more than 1,000 career points who has received some recruiting interest from NAU, admitted she was “stressed for a little bit” when the Rangers were down by double-digits. Cholla built that lead in the third quarter coming off the momentum of a last-second putback off an airball at the halftime buzzer by Deanna Brown.
“All we needed was to come together, and say, ‘Hey, we know how to play our game. We know what this team has. We’ve played them before. We know how to win.’ It was just a matter of getting it done,” Rocha said.
Rincon sophomore Maddie Greene had eight of her 16 points in the fourth quarter to help the Rangers pull out the 42-39 win at Cholla tonight. She was 5 of 6 from the free throw line and made a 3-pointer in the final period. pic.twitter.com/q0ky0JZz2x
Cholla had one last shot at the buzzer to tie the game but a 3-point attempt was a little short off the rim.
“It’s going to hurt for a while,” Lombardi said. “Once everything dies down and we look back, we’ll know we had a good season. We were competitive and the girls were tough. We’re a great, tough defensive team. They play hard.”
Rincon (17-9, 8-2) and Cholla (14-12, 6-4) are both likely bound for the postseason starting Thursday.
Cholla's Deanna Brown gets the putback in just before the buzzer, giving the Chargers a 23-16 lead at halftime over Rincon. Brown and Zenieda Zamora each with 6 points to lead the Chargers. Maddie Greene leads Rincon with 7. pic.twitter.com/hCKP8L30kC
Tuesday night’s game will be in the rearview mirror fast for both teams as they prepare for probable play-in games in less than 48 hours.
Rincon has momentum on its side coming off the exhilarating win.
“We need to continue to work hard and play as a team,” Greene said. “We perform best when we’re working together and not focusing on the individual player.”