STATE CHAMPIONSHIP INFORMATION: The 2022 4A boys state championship game will tip off on Monday at 8 p.m. at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in downtown Phoenix. Prior to the boys games, the No. 2 Salpointe girls will play the 4A girls championship game against No. 5 Flagstaff at 6 p.m. Those interested in attending are advised to arrive early. Parking costs $10 per car. Information for advanced ticket purchases can be found by clicking here.
PHOENIX — When the top-ranked Salpointe Catholic Lancers boys basketball team enters Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Monday for the 4A state championship game, they will be on the hunt for their second title in three years when they play No. 6 Mesquite Wildcats.
In fact, it will be the Lancers’ fifth championship appearance in the last 10 years as Salpointe’s basketball program continues to be a competitive force across the state.
Under first-year head coach Eric Castillo, the Lancers finished the regular season with a perfect record of 18-0 in games observed by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. The AIA does not factor in-season tournament games in its power ratings. Salpointe is 26-2 overall.
One of the most notable wins of the season for Salpointe came on the road against Paradise Honors, the team that eliminated them from the playoffs in last year’s semifinal. In a jam-packed gym, the Lancers were able to break out to a bit of a lead towards the end of the third quarter and carry on to the victory.
Who would’ve thought script of long-time assistant finally getting shot at being head coach and then having HUGE success would play out twice this season in Tucson? Arizona’s Tommy Lloyd meet Salpointe’s Eric Castillo. @SalpointeMBB in 4A state title game. https://t.co/nqh3gLJJZr
— Javier Morales (@JavierJMorales) February 23, 2022
Meanwhile for Mesquite and second-year coach Shawn Lynch, the Wildcats have made it to this point in the season with a record of 17-1 as observed by the AIA (they are 26-3 overall).
Mesquite’s lone loss (aside from in-season tournament games) came early in the season at the hands of the Gilbert Tigers, who will be playing for the 5A title on Tuesday.
The Wildcats had a much tougher run to get to the championships than Salpointe, barely squeezing by No. 2 St. Mary’s with an insane 55-foot buzzer-beater from senior Nate Calmese, which made ESPN Sports Center’s top play of the day on their top-ten highlight reel.
Both teams were battle-tested this year, featuring loaded schedules against a number of bigger opponents and some tough, out-of-state tournament play.
.@NateCalmese HITS HALF COURT AT THE BUZZER TO BEAT ST. MARY’S 74-73 TO ADVANCE TO THE STATE CHAMPIONSHIP 🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/G1FVZl8r1K
— EVision (@EVision_AZ) February 23, 2022
Salpointe Catholic has made it to the playoffs nine out of the last 10 years, as the basketball program continues to make a climb towards the top. After missing out on the state championship game last year, the Lancers were motivated day in and day out by their desire to bring another championship to Southern Arizona.
Meanwhile for Mesquite, the Wildcats have come a long way in rebuilding their program. A rough stretch between 2014-2016 saw the Wildcats post an overall record of 6-41 before bouncing back in 2017 to make it back to the playoffs. Since then, the Wildcats have been back in the mix every year, but they’ve fallen short of their quest to make it to the championship.
The two teams have only met twice in the last 10 years, with Salpointe winning both of them. Most recently, the Lancers were able to defeat the Wildcats 83-55 in the 2019 state playoffs. Previously, the two met in the 2015-2016 regular season, when the Lancers cruised to a 75-48 road win.
With very little experience playing each other, it will make for an interesting challenge.
What to expect
While most didn’t give the Mesquite Wildcats a fighting chance of making it to the finals, Lynch and his squad knew they had what it took to keep climbing the bracket. In a hard-fought win over Peoria, Mesquite showed its ability to keep the level of intensity high despite how much time has gone by in the game, setting the Wildcats up for the semifinal showdown against St. Mary’s in which Mesquite was able to stun the entire gym.
Mesquite’s main scoring comes from Calmese and junior Cohen Gonzales, who both can shoot lights out and have led the team’s offensive attack this season. While Calmese’s historic play shows his ability to put the ball in the bucket, it doesn’t show just how hard he plays the entire time he’s on the court. Senior Kayson Bryant has also shown he has the ability to step up and lead the offense if need be, and he may be the secret weapon the Wildcats need in this match up.
The Wildcats have a high-powered offense capable of dropping 80 points easy on any given day, and can adjust around a number of different defensive styles. Expect to see Mesquite attempt to come out with a punch to start things off in an attempt to set the tone for the game.
From Salpointe Catholic
The Lancers are absolutely loaded from top to bottom with skilled players holding a high basketball IQ. While they may not be the biggest when it comes to their size on the court, their ability to shoot the ball and make tough plays has helped them power past the competition to reach this point as the Lancers have been on a revenge tour all year.
Leading things all year long on the court for the Lancers has been the threatening trio of seniors Dillan Baker, Julian Riesgo and Brett Rosenblatt. All three have the ability to not only shoot well in transition, but also with defenders in their face attempting to block shots. And while Canyon Torres may not always take on the role as one of the top leaders, the junior has also stepped up when called upon this year to help the Lancers grind their way to the win.
Defensively, one of the Lancers’ biggest threats is junior Pasha Shemirani, who is great at controlling the boards, both offensively and defensively. He also uses his height well on the interior to block shots or force a turnover.
Salpointe has shown all year why the Lancers are the top-ranked team in 4A. With consistency being key, the Lancers always showed up on game night with minimal errors or sloppy plays to plow through the competition. In some of the bigger games of the season, the Lancers were able to feed off the crowd’s energy, even when it was in a hostile environment on the road, mentally preparing them for the challenge at hand.
Even if the Lancers find themselves trailing at any point in the game, expect them to remain calm and composed. They’ve shown on more than one occasion their ability to battle back on the road after coming out flat to start. It’s likely they’ll try to secure a solid lead going into the half by playing strong defense and forcing turnovers or bad shots.
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