Redemption feels sweet for Salpointe Catholic Hoops in road win over Paradise Honors

SURPRISE — In a gritty, hard-fought battle, the Salpointe Catholic Lancers were able to grind their way to a 57-44 road win over the Paradise Honors Panthers on Thursday night in Surprise.

In a packed gym electrified with emotions from both the fans and the players, the environment mimicked the playoffs. With the postseason quickly approaching, the win tastes even sweeter for the Lancers, as the Panthers sent them packing in last year’s semifinals round. 

“We just knew no matter how much hype, if we just executed and stayed disciplined we would pull out a win,” senior Dillan Baker said. 

“Coming out for this big win and getting our redemption for last year’s playoffs feels amazing,” senior Julian Riesgo added. 

“I knew it was going to be a great environment,” Baker said. “I knew the crowd level, volume, everything was going to be high. Shout out to JV and Freshmen for matching that energy for us.”

It’s the second time this season the Lancers took a road trip to Phoenix to close out a three-day stretch of play; a tough mental test in itself. Salpointe head coach Eric Castillo says the three-hour bus ride to the area plus the waiting before the game after playing the two days prior had an impact on their slow start to the game, but he knew he just needed to be patient and things would start to click. 

“I never have a doubt in my mind if we’re ever going to be in the game,” Castillo said. “Our kids are just so resilient and they work so hard.”

Despite falling behind 14-4 in the first quarter, the Lancers were able to work their way back to close things out after the first eight minutes of play trailing by only four. Defense was the name of the game all night, and the two teams stayed fighting to see who could claim a significant lead in the second in an effort to establish some control. 

Just before the half, Riesgo was able to drill a buzzer-beater to make it 26-22 Paradise Honors still leading. His shot gave Salpointe Catholic a huge energy boost heading into the locker room.

Salpointe started off the third quarter hot and never looked back. After working their way out of a hole to take a 29-28 lead, a three from junior Brett Rosenblatt kick started the Lancers’ offense and sent them on their way. Riesgo followed his three, with Baker nailing one to make it three in-a-row for Salpointe to give the Lancers a ten-point lead. 

“This is probably the best defense we’ve played all year,” Castillo said. “Our kids our sponges, they just pay attention to what we’re instructing and they go out there and they execute.”

“As long as our defense is there, it translates to our offense and I feel like that’s what happened today,” Riesgo said. 

At the end of three, the Lancers had established dominance by jumping out to a significant 42-32 lead, going on a 20-6 run in the third quarter. Paradise Honors was in foul trouble to start the fourth quarter, too, benefiting the Lancers in the final push. From there, it was too little too late for the Paradise Honors Panthers, as the Lancers were able to earn a 57-44 win. 

“I am always totally aware of the foul count,” Castillo said. “We talk about it at practice. I want to be up on the foul count, I want to be on the free throw line, because that really hurts the other team when you can get up on the foul count. So that’s actually something that we work on, trying to get other teams in foul trouble.”

Leading the game in scoring for the Lancers was Baker, who had 18 points, six rebounds, three assists, a steal, a deflection and a block. Riesgo followed with 16 points, five rebounds, three assists, two deflections and a steal. The duo has led the Lancers on the court in scoring all season. 

“I think it was a great experience,” Baker said. “It’s really going to prepare us for what’s to come. We knew it was going to be like this. We treated it like a playoff game, especially last year losing in the semifinals to [Paradise Honors], we treated it like it was the semifinals all over again and just came out with that mentality. 

“I felt good playing out there, especially with the energy,” Riesgo said. “We haven’t really had a game with this much of a crowd, so it just felt really good going out there and it’s my senior year, so I want to give it all I’ve got with my energy.”

Finishing out their final regular-season trip to Phoenix, the Lancers are hoping they’ll have one more victorious bus ride home from the Valley at the end of the season. Castillo says he’s hoping the team can clinch a top seed in the 4A division for playoffs to secure home-court advantage for the Lancers as they close out the rest of the season. 

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

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