After a tight-battle with one of the top teams in the state, Maricopa High School girls’ basketball posted a loss for the final game of the season, but the Rams retained their 13th-place ranking in 5A.
That sets them up as the home team for the first round of the 5A play-in tournament Thursday. They will host No. 20 Deer Valley at 6:30 p.m.
The Rams (17-9) lost to Apollo Tuesday, 53-45. Afterward, Apollo moved from No. 4 to No. 1, finishing with a record of 20-2. The top eight teams automatically move into the state championship bracket. Those ranked ninth through 24th qualify for the play-in tournament to vie for spots in the championship bracket.
For instance, Maricopa’s varsity boys’ team also lost to Apollo Tuesday, to end with an 11-12 record. But their 23rd ranking in 5A advances them to the play-in tournament. They play at 10th-ranked Sahuaro on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Previously this season, Maricopa’s girls lost to Apollo by 17 points. The Rams came into Tuesday’s rematch with four straight wins, including a narrow 48-47 victory at Williams Field.
“When we played them the first time, they were a heck of a rebounding team,” Rams’ head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “Of course, they’re big. They keep it above their heads. All the fundamental stuff that you want to teach your kids, they do. And they’re very, very physical. So, we wanted to try to match that intensity and make sure we were rebounding off the weak side.
“We definitely wanted to challenge them and see what they were made of.”
Both teams were shooting cold at the start of the game. Maricopa’s defense kept the Rams battling back and forth for the lead. The MHS strategy on the boards was effective for the first half, and then the offense started firing in the third quarter to allow the Rams a lead.
Inconsistency upended the Rams’ effort in the fourth quarter, Mitchell said.
“In the fourth quarter it kind of broke down,” he said. “They were playing ‘Monkey in the Middle’ or something. It was just one of those things where we have to be consistent throughout the whole game.”
For Senior Night, Maricopa’s two seniors led the scoring. Sydni Callis scored 16 and had seven steals, four rebounds and six assists. Alia Ballou scored 10 points, including two 3-pointers. Junior Jayla Johnson had nine points. Sophomore Taylor Coleman had eight rebounds and two blocks.
For Apollo, 6-foot junior Jakaree Harris led all scoring with 22 points, and 6-foot-1 freshman Haylee Weathersby scored 17.
“I think we kept up the intensity,” Mitchell said. “The play out of our guards was spectacular.”
That, he said, has Maricopa in good preparation for Thursday’s play-in game.
“It’s that time of year where we have to refuse to lose, and we want to see where we go,” the coach said. “I’m looking forward to it.”