Upstart Mica Mountain outlasts Walden Grove in 4A state playoffs play-in game thriller

Mica Mountain’s Isaiah Berg and Kason Colbert celebrate Friday’s 62-60 win over Walden Grove in the 4A state playoffs play-in game (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

The first playoff game at Mica Mountain’s gym on Friday night was one for the ages, even if that age is only 2 years old.

That’s how long the Thunderbolts have played at the varsity level after the new school near Valencia and Houghton opened in 2020-21.

Mica Mountain’s high-quality athletic staff including principal of interscholastics Jay Campo and athletic director Whitney Holland planned for a packed gym. The Thunderbolts came close to that with Walden Grove’s fans helping by filling half of one side of the stands.

The atmosphere matched the intensity of the 4A state playoffs play-in game with No. 10 Mica Mountain outlasting No. 23 Walden Grove 62-60.

The Thunderbolts, 17-9 and on a 10-game winning streak, will learn of their opening round matchup of the 4A state tournament Saturday morning.

“We all just had to stay calm and be ready for anything that could’ve happened,” said junior forward Isaiah Berg, who had a team-high 19 points, 15 in the second half. “I think we handled it pretty well.”

Neither team led by double-digits although Mica Mountain came close with a 51-43 lead with 1:27 left in the third quarter following conversions on three straight possessions, including consecutive 3-point play opportunities for Berg.

An 8-2 run later by Walden Grove cut the lead to 59-58 with 2:18 remaining.

Berg’s putback off a missed free throw with 1:54 left gave Mica Mountain a 62-58 lead.

“I just figured I needed to get the ball in the basket somehow,” Berg said. “I got to the basket. I had my opportunity and I got it in.”

Alex Collins, a senior wing for Walden Grove scored his 20th point of the game on a layup with 1:11 left that cut the lead to 62-60.

The last minute of the game ended with a flurry, the direct result of the first year of the 35-second shot clock.

Missed jumpers by both teams took the clock down to 14.8 seconds left. Mica Mountain missed the front end of one-and-one free-throw opportunities in that stretch, the last with 4.5 seconds.

Walden Grove set up for a potential game-winning shot after grabbing the rebound following the second missed free throw and calling timeout with 3.4 seconds left.

Collins took the inbounds pass drove the length of the court and took a fadeaway 10-foot jumper on the baseline that fell short at the buzzer.

“First off, you’ve got to take your hat off to Walden Grove,” Mica Mountain coach Gary Lee said of the Red Wolves, who less than two weeks ago lost 81-50 to the Thunderbolts in the same gym. “Their kids were focused; they played hard. They were willing to do anything to support their school and get themselves the win.

“In the second half, we kind of met their energy. It gave us a chance to get a little lead. We missed some bunnies down the stretch. Luckily, we came away with the victory.”

Lee’s hire at Mica Mountain in 2020 was a natural one in so many ways.

He grew up in Benson with Holland.

He coached the Cesar Chavez program in Phoenix since that school opened in 1999 to the end of the 2019-20 season. He guided the Champions to a 402-152 record with two state runner-up finishes.

He is 29-18 in his two varsity seasons at Mica Mountain, including a 4A Gila championship this year with an 8-2 record.

“We came into this whole concept after Christmas humming — we have to be aggressive, we have to box out, we’ve got to do all these energy things,” Lee said.

Lee’s guards Jordan Porter, a freshman, and sophomore Will Henry combined for five 3-pointers. Porter had two and finished with eight points and Henry three accounting for his nine points.

Sophomore power forward Jimmy Leon (10 points) and junior power forward Kason Colbert (seven points) add to the Thunderbolts’ incredible youth movement.

All but two of Lee’s players are underclassmen with Berg pegged as the senior captain next season.

“We have some young guards who have really stepped up,” Lee said of Porter and Henry. “They’re kind of seasoned now as varsity goes now. They’re full of confidence. And then we have some kids who live in the weight room that really makes things a lot easier in high school.”

Walden Grove’s Ashton Romney is a junior guard who will return next year. He had 12 points, including a breakaway dunk. Caleb Lyden, a senior, added 10 points for the Red Wolves.


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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