QUEEN CREEK — Salpointe Catholic boys basketball had an enjoyable bus ride home to Tucson on Friday night after storming past the ALA-Queen Creek Patriots 61-33.
After coming alive in the second quarter, the Lancers were able to keep hammering away at the lead to ultimately force a running clock to close out the game. It was a gritty night on the court, but Salpointe Catholic was able to showcase a plethora of skill, depth and mental toughness to power ahead to the win.
Things got off to a bit of an uncharacteristically slow start for the Lancers on the hardwood, as they quickly found themselves trailing 9-0 to start the game. Coach Eric Castillo said he was anticipating it would take some time to get rolling, as it was not only their third game of the week, but it came on the heels of a two-hour bus ride.
“I’m glad he called a timeout and not me, because I was just about ready to call one,” Castillo said. “We just needed to settle down and start doing the things that we could do, and we’ve got a bunch of kids that just play hard, so it really turned things around for us.”
After the timeout was called, the Lancers were able to slow the pace down and start playing their style of basketball. By doing so, it allowed Salpointe Catholic to close out the first quarter leading 12-11. The final bucket by junior Canyon Torres came off a steal, putting all of the momentum in the Lancers’ corner to start the second quarter.
As the Lancers were able to loosen up on the court and find their groove, they slowly but surely started to work away at building a lead. In an attempt to slow the momentum down, the Patriots called a timeout with just over four minutes remaining before the half trailing by five. It didn’t do much to slow down Salpointe Catholic, though, as the Lancers were able to keep pushing forwards to close out the first half leading 32-18.
The final bucket of the first came off a steal by James Smotherman, who dumped it off to an open Pasha Shemirani who put it up and in just as the buzzer was sounding.
“The momentum was on our side and we just knew once we could throw the ball over the top and break out a little bit, it kinda opened up our offense,” Castillo said. “We got some easy buckets just advancing the basketball. We work on that a lot at practice, good transition basketball, and our kids are really good at it. So that’s what we talked about, just do what we do.”
The second half was all Salpointe Catholic, as the Lancers continued to pour it on the Patriots. By the end of the third quarter, Salpointe Catholic was leading ALA-Queen Creek 53-27. It didn’t take too much longer for the Lancers to hit the 30-point lead mark and force a running clock for the remainder of the game.
There were three key scorers on the court for the Lancers. Dillan Baker led the game in scoring, posting 16 points on the night while shooting 64-percent from the field. He also had five rebounds, three assists, three deflections, a steal and a block.
Julian Riesgo was not far behind, posting 15 points, five deflections, four rebounds, two steals and an assist while shooting 67 percent on the night.
Shemirani, who served as a spark plug at times, finished the night shooting 75 percent from the field for 12 points. He also had seven deflections, five rebounds and a block.
“We’re pretty deep,” Castillo said. “We have a lot of starters coming back and a lot of good momentum going.”
Salpointe Catholic is now 6-0 on the season per the AIA, but the record doesn’t include the Lancers’ tournament play over the holidays. Participating in the Visit Mesa Basketball Challenge over winter break, Salpointe Catholic faced two tough opponents in Davis, Utah’s reigning state champions, and Sunnyslope, Arizona’s 2021 6A State Champions. For Castillo, the experience gained in those tournaments will be crucial when it comes to preparing for tougher opponents down the stretch.
“The thing about playing in Phoenix and playing bigger schools is that we can’t emulate that in Tucson,” Castillo said. “We can’t emulate it in our practice, and we can’t emulate it with other teams we play… You learn so much more from losing than you do winning, because you know what you’ve gotta work on. You know what your weaknesses are, and that’s what we took back to practice and worked on to get ready for the back half of the season.”
The Lancers will travel to Canyon del Oro on Tuesday before returning home to host Sahuaro on Thursday and Cholla on Friday. The next big game on the schedule for the Lancers is on Jan. 20, when Salpointe Catholic travels north once again, this time to take on the 4A state runner-up Paradise Honors.
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07