No. 10 Catalina Foothills eliminated from 5A playoffs following first-round loss

GLENDALE — The 2022 season has officially come to a close for the Catalina Foothills boys basketball program, which was trying to defend its 5A state championship.

The No. 10 Falcons were eliminated from the postseason on Wednesday by the No. 7 Apollo Hawks 67-48 in round one of the 5A playoffs, making for a long trip back home. For the reigning state champions, the season’s abrupt ending evoked a flood of emotions from the Falcons as the final buzzer sounded.

“This year’s team was all first-year varsity players,” Catalina Foothills coach Doug D’Amore said. “I’m just really proud of the kids, none of them were here last year, so for them to not be in our gym for over 18 months and come into a whole new system is hard. It’s tough, and I think it showed a lot of character.”

Things got off to a solid start for Catalina Foothills, as they were able to quickly jump out to a 10-2 lead midway through the first quarter off a three from junior JJ Salkowski. As the Falcons continued to work away at the lead, it set up Salkowski for another bucket to push the lead to 17-9 with under a minute left in the quarter. Quick, back-to-back plays by Apollo put them back within arms reach of the lead to close out the first, as the Hawks were trailing the Falcons 19-14.

The momentum shift Apollo was starting to generate carried over to open up the second quarter of play, as the Hawks plowed their way to the first lead since early in the game off a jumper from Bobby Holcomb. In the midst of it all, the Falcons were dealing with a number of tough calls against them, allowing the Hawks to sink their claws in at a crucial moment in the game.

D’Amore said he kept telling the boys to just stay focused on the plan.

“Sometimes it goes that way, there’s not much you can do about it,” D’Amore said. “I thought they did a really good job not getting frustrated and staying focused, and I was proud of them for that because it was frustrating.”

By the half, Apollo had jumped out to a 33-24 lead over Catalina Foothills, putting the pressure on for the Falcons to come out strong in the third.

After two missed shots from the Falcons, Apollo was finally able to open things up with the first bucket of the second half, instantly igniting the crowd and helping to bring back the same energy the Hawks had leading into the break. The Falcons continued to answer back, with a bucket from freshman Jack Egginton helping to keep things close.

With 2:37 left on the clock in the third, the Falcons were able to cut the Hawks’ lead to 43-37 as they knew this was a prime time to make a push for the lead. However, a shot from behind the arc for Holcomb coming out of the timeout knocked the wind out from Catalina Foothills. Continuing to fight, the Falcons went into the final eight minutes of play trailing 48-39.

Once the fourth quarter got underway, the Hawks were eventually able to run away with the game, soaring to a 67-48 victory.

Leading things on the hardwood for the Falcons was Egginton, with 16 points on the night. Meanwhile for the Hawks, it was senior Ahamed Mohamed tearing it up, posting 23 points in the game. Behind Mohamed was Holcomb and Joshon Person, both with 14.

One of the hardest things about season commencements is saying goodbye to the seniors, who have often left their own unique mark behind on the program.

“Probably more than any team, we had a lot of laughs,” D’Amore said. “There are a lot of good characters on the team and it was a lot of fun. So, you know, we all look back in two months, two years and can appreciate the team.”

While the season ended sooner than D’Amore would have liked, he’s looking forward to improving during the summer with the returning players on the squad. D’Amore says he’s proud of everything they’ve accomplished this year and feels confident the stage is set for the program to make it back to the championships in the near future.

“We’re extremely excited,” D’Amore said. “We don’t want to look too far ahead right now, but there’s a lot of pieces we haven’t had. … This year’s team is all first-year varsity players. We have kids who have a year under their belt and there’s nothing you can trade for experience.”

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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