Before his team’s game on Tuesday (Feb. 11), Phoenix Thunderbird girls basketball coach Barry Ringel remarked that the Lady Chiefs were playing some of their best basketball of the season.
Their performance against Scottsdale Saguaro in the Division II, Section V tournament bore that out.
The third-seeded Chiefs used a tough defense and a calm offense that was under control most of the time to record a 44-36 victory over the second-seeded, defending state champion Sabercats at Phoenix Barry Goldwater High.
Both teams are expected to reach the upcoming state tournament. After winning its fifth game in a row, Thunderbird (21-9) will face top-seeded Phoenix South Mountain or No. 4 Phoenix Moon Valley on Saturday (Feb. 15) at 5 p.m. for the section championship at Barry Goldwater.
Thunderbird was a different team that fell at Saguaro 64-50 on Dec. 18.
“In that game, we turned the ball over a lot – a lot of unforced turnovers that led to baskets,’’ Ringel said. “This time, there were very few of those.’’
Saguaro (22-7) grabbed an early 10-2 lead in this one, but Thunderbird pulled to within 10-7 entering the second quarter on a basket by inside player Brianna Lehew and a 3-pointer by wing player Ann Shikles. She had four baskets from long range for the game and led all scorers with 15 points.
Shikles began the second quarter by tying it with another three, followed by baskets by Allison Schoenike and Ozahria Fisher, plus a 3-pointer by Fisher. Thunderbird had a 17-12 lead and would not trail again. Fisher scored 12 points and Lehew 11.
“After we trailed early, our defense picked up the rest of the game,’’ Ringel said. “There have been times when we have tried to outscore teams this season, but it didn’t work. We improved our defense and it has given us chances.’’
Ringel lauded the play of Lehew, a promising 6-foot-1 sophomore, and senior Madison Wichmann, who did not score but played effective defense against Saguaro’s Casey Rarrick. The senior star did not score a basket, and finished with five points, all on free throws.
Guard Jelani Huma scored 12 points to lead Saguaro, and inside player Naomi Reyes had 11.