Moon Valley’s second half 19-point lead almost went poof.
St. Mary’s big-lead eraser, 6-10 K.J. Hymes, and his team’s three-point shooting helped get St. Mary’s within a point with less than 30 seconds left in the state quarterfinal game. Putting away teams near the end of games isn’t a forte of Moon Valley this season, and losing a 10-point second round lead in last year’s playoffs still irks Moon Valley.
The returning Phoenix high school boys basketball players promised not to repeat last year’s exit. The boys kept their promise Saturday at home, clinching the program’s first state state semifinal berth since 2000 with a 74-71 victory.
“They (Moon Valley) earned everything,” St. Mary’s coach Ty Amundsen said. “They 100 percent earned everything.”
Before St. Mary's fourth quarter run, foul trouble and three technical fouls against St. Mary’s in the second quarter opened the door for Moon Valley to start running away.
By the third quarter, Moon Valley led by 19 points twice. The lead was 16 when the fourth quarter started, but that’s when St. Mary’s offense came alive.
St. Mary’s opened the final eight minutes with an 11-0 run after hitting its first five shots of the quarter. Hymes scored 14 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, mostly on dunks against a defender, Jok Jok, who, like Hymes, was playing with four fouls but still had a big hand in Moon Valley’s victory.
After St. Mary’s cut Moon Valley’s lead to 70-69, Jok rebounded a missed Moon Valley shot and was fouled with 28.5 left in the game. Jok, a 60 percent free throw shooter, made both free throws and went 10 for 12 from the line Saturday.
The tall and thin Jok also scored a season-high 23 points.
“Most of our games we fail to close them out, but we finally closed this game out,” Jok said.
On St. Mary’s final possession, Hymes scored a basket in the paint, but the clock wound down to the 3.2 seconds when Moon Valley was fouled.
Cam’ron Davis made the first free throw and missed the second one, but Moon Valley’s Gabe Lee rebounded the ball and was then fouled with 1.4 seconds left and Moon Valley up 73-71. Lee sank the first free throw and missed the second one, but Moon Valley’s Tavarus Person’s rebound off the free throw closed out the game.
“I’m really proud of my seniors,” Amundsen said. “They really stepped up in the fourth quarter. They didn’t want to lose in this way. But I believe they left everything on the floor. It doesn’t help that K.J. got into foul trouble in the first half. All three of my bigs had three or four fouls in the first half.”
St. Mary’s led 12-6 and 14-12 — its final lead in the game — in the first quarter, when Moon Valley hit back-to-back threes to head into the second quarter with a 15-14 edge.
St. Mary’s went 8 from 18 from beyond the arc. Amundsen felt his team didn’t get into a rhythm in the first half because of the amount of fouls that were called.
“They (Moon Valley) shot 26 free free throws,” Amundsen said. “We shoot 17. This is supposed to be a playoff game, and there was a lot of frustration on both ends, just because of how the flow of the game was going. Then finally in the second half both teams got into a rhythm when they were actually playing basketball.”
Thee three technicals also hurt St. Mary’s (16-12).
A St. Mary's defender was called for pushing Trevor Thompson down during a lay up attempt, and St. Mary’s bench was called for two technicals.
Moon Valley increased its lead from 24-17 to 33-18 during that stretch with the technical fouls.
Thompson scored seven of his 29 points during that stretch.
“We came up and made some huge stops,” Thompson said. “To make it to the Final 4 is great.”
Moon Valley (22-4), the No. 4 seed, will face the No. 1 seed, Shadow Mountain on Wednesday in the second 4A semifinal game at Copper Canyon High School.
“We believe in each other,” Moon Valley coach Matt Elliot said. “Early in the season we were still feeling each other out from last year and we had some new parts, but we are playing as a team now.”