No. 8 Salpointe advances to Open Division quarterfinals with victory over No. 9 Hamilton

Bria Medina brings the ball upcourt with Taliyah Henderson trailing (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson)

Salpointe Catholic has established itself as one of the top eight teams in the state’s highest classifications of 4A through 6A.

The Lancers (22-6) of the 4A conference have won 16 straight games, including Thursday’s 49-45 win over visiting Chandler Hamilton, a 6A school, to advance to the quarterfinals of the first-ever Open Division tournament.

His team may be the No. 8 seed in the tournament but coach Joseph Luevano is not convinced that the Lancers are the eighth-best team in the state because of their seeding.

“That ‘8’ is not accurate in a lot of ways,” Luevano said. “We’re one of the best eight teams in the state. I’m not saying we’re No. 8 or No. 1 or anything. We’re one of the best eight teams in the state. I’m incredibly proud of that group to battle today.”

Salpointe’s next opponent is top-seeded Desert Vista (24-3). The game is Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. at Desert Vista, which has won 15 consecutive games. The Lancers lost 58-48 against Desert Vista in an early-season tournament Dec. 1.

Hamilton (21-8) heads to the 6A state tournament (bracket to be revealed Saturday).

The Lancers persevered against the Huskies despite a cold-shooting night (37 percent from the field) and being down two starters early in the fourth quarter.

Hannah Williams, who put Salpointe ahead 8-7 at the buzzer to end the first quarter, exited the game for good with 5:30 left in the second quarter after she took an inadvertent blow to the nose by a Hamilton player.

Williams’ nose became slightly swollen. She said she was fine after game. She should be able to play against Desert Vista, especially with the game a week away.

Bria Medina, Salpointe’s senior captain at point guard, picked up her fourth foul with 5:18 left and the Lancers leading 40-34.

A 3-point play by Hamilton’s Savanna Creal shortly thereafter with 4:51 remaining cut the lead to 40-37.

“We got down a person early and we didn’t let that affect us,” Luevano said. “We just battled and battled and battled. Losing a starter as impactful as Hannah Williams is, we had so many kids step up.”

Medina returned to the court after a timeout with 4:40 left. Jordan Watts’ putback, followed by a 3-pointer by Allison Even, enabled Salpointe to forge ahead 45-37 with 3:22 remaining.

After Hamilton cut the lead to 45-41 on its next two possessions, Taliyah Henderson scored on Salpointe’s following two times with ball.

Creal scored the game’s next four points to to cut the lead to 49-45 with 24.7 seconds remaining.

The Huskies could have cut into the lead after a Salpointe turnover but a 3-point attempt was off the mark with 11.2 seconds left.

“We’re definitely really happy that we won,” said Medina, who scored all 11 of her points in the second half. “It’s rewarding that we won because they’re such a great school. They’re such a big school. They play great teams up in Phoenix.

“It’s really rewarding for us to put in the work in practice and see the outcome coming together.”

Henderson finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds for her third consecutive double-double and seventh overall this season.

Even finished with seven of her nine points in the second half, including making the only 3-pointer she attempted in that key stretch in the fourth quarter when Medina returned after sitting with four fouls.

Henderson, Williams and Even are a Class of 2025 trio that will be formidable over the next couple of years.

“It’s just really exciting because we have a young group of people,” Even said. “We’re just going to continue to grow together. Being at this level is incredible because we’re going to grow as a team.”


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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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