PHOENIX — The long state-championship drought is over for Salpointe Catholic and its coach Jim Reynolds, from when Larry Baroldy coached the first Lancers’ boys varsity team starting on Dec. 12, 1952 to today when Reynolds cut down the nets for the first time in his storied career.
The 68-year wait for Salpointe’s program and the 31-year span of coming up short in Reynolds’ coaching career — including his 25 years at Cincinnati’s Madeira High School — is all but a memory now for the diligence it took for them to get this far.
“Coaching this team and winning this championship is obviously a tremendous part of my life, for sure. I’m really glad I was able to experience it,” Reynolds said as his senior-laden team celebrated behind him at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Had a good laugh during the 2017-18 season when Jim Reynolds started out 3-14 at Salpointe & some media “experts” questioned his ability to coach. 7 of those loses came during invitationals & Evan Nelson was not available. That’s when you ignore the noise. I knew what was coming pic.twitter.com/K8ax9hDrR6
The anxiety to win that first title was extended another four minutes today with the game going to overtime against Peoria. The Lancers outscored Peoria 6-0 in overtime — helped by standout post player Kevin Kogbara fouling out in the extra period — to win 54-48 and finally experience the feeling of being a champion.
Evan Nelson, the Harvard-bound standout who led Salpointe with 17 points and six rebounds, helped ignite the Lancers’ rise to being championship caliber after transferring from Mountain View before the 2017-18 season.
He was forced to sit out half the season per transfer rules. When he became eligible, Salpointe went from 3-14 (in Reynolds’ first season) to finishing 15-15 with a loss in the state championship game to Mike Bibby and Shadow Mountain.
Bibby and Matadors were a difficult obstacle to overcome for Salpointe. The Lancers reached the semifinals last year and the state championship games in 2016-17 and 2017-18 only to come up short to Shadow Mountain.
“Legendary, man, nobody else has done it,” Nelson said about Salpointe finally breaking through. “We did it. Let’s go.”
Hurts so good … quite a celebration scrum for @SalpointeMBB after the last seconds ticked off against Peoria. @ezdoesit_24 said he was caught under the pile of teammates and thought he might get hurt. He survived. pic.twitter.com/p2KFVNAbtM
“Shadow was in our way … we overcame a lot,” said senior guard Grant Weitman, who made one of Salpointe’s two shots in overtime and finished with 15 points, four assists and five rebounds.
“It’s crazy. I’m so happy right now.”
Braden Miller, Sean Miller’s youngest son, made one of Salpointe’s two field goals in overtime. He knows what his dad felt like in 1985-86, when Sean Miller as a junior point guard led Blackhawk High School in Chippewa Township, Beaver County, Pa., to the state championship.
“It’s crazy, if you look back at all the Salpointe Catholic teams, they’ve done so well,” Braden Miller said of being part of the school’s first title team. “They’ve been so good. To be the first one to win it, is such a great honor. It feels amazing.”
The Lancers did not make a state championship game until 44 years into their existence as a varsity team. That was in 1996-97 under Brian Peabody, now the head coach at Pima College. Two years later under Peabody, the Lancers advanced to the title game again but a 30-4 season came up just short.
Brian Holstrom coached the Cinderella Salpointe team that went 23-11 to the 2012-13 state championship game only to lose to Paradise Valley. Holstrom again led the Lancers to the title game in 2016-17 but his 21-10 team could not pull off the miracle against Shadow Mountain.
Legendary coach Jim Flannery, who is inducted in the Pima County Sports Hall of Fame, won three regional titles with the Lancers from 1977-93 but couldn’t get to that elusive state championship game. He also played with the Lancers from 1962-66.
Braden Miller, youngest son of Arizona coach Sean Miller, is a state champion with @SalpointeMBB like his dad was in 1985-86 with Blackhawk HS in Chippewa Township, Beaver County, PA. pic.twitter.com/fUlyA68WwH
Still coaching Salpointe’s boys golf team, Flannery can take some pride in being part of the Lancers’ basketball legacy today.
“You have to love the grit and determination of our guys,” said Reynolds, whose team rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit against Peoria. “Proud of our guys just to hang tough. We started five seniors all year (Nelson, Weitman, Miller, Jordan Gainey and Jake Cioe). These guys, they care about each other and they care about the other guys on the team.
“They relate well to the coaching staff, they’re good students, good citizens in the Salpointe community and Tucson. I’m so happy for them.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.