The Sand Devils basketball team placed third at the 3A Regional championship playoffs in Chinle’s Wildcat Den last Saturday.
They advance to the Conference Division playoff on Wednesday at Sand Devil’s home court against Kingman in the first round of the state playoffs.
The third place banner followed a stellar year, the high point of which was an eleven-game win streak with an average 10-point lead over their opponent mid season.
However, they struggled the last three games leading up to the 3A regional playoffs but they maintained their number two 3A rankings to advance to the regional qualifier’s second round on Friday.
The Sand Devils took on the Window Rock Fighting Scouts in the second round of the tournament, maintaining the fast-break pace they’re known for. The Scouts were able to match the Sand Devils point for point and play for play. The Sand Devils had trouble with in-and-out buckets and were unable to put enough points between them and the Scouts. By the fourth quarter energy was high as they gave it a good run but couldn’t regain the lead. It was a nail biter to the last second with the Scouts taking the win with a score of 43-44 to advance to the Championship round.
The Sand Devils, not yet ready to give up, advanced to the third place round against the Tuba City Warriors.
Sand Devils and Warriors took the court in the much-awaited rematch vying for the third-place banner.
The Sand Devils broke open the scoreboard landing the first basket and continued the gangbuster style they’re known for. They scored eight points before the Warriors could find the net. Mid-quarter the Warriors found their stride and by the end of the quarter they had caught up with the Sand Devils. The score at the end of the first quarter was tied at 12.
In the second quarter the Sand Devils brought back the mojo they’d been missing earlier, with streamlined passing and finding their open post players. By halftime they had rebuilt a four-point lead, 26-22.
In the third quarter the Sand Devils used teamwork to retain their small lead. By playing smart defensive and landing some critical baskets they were able to advance their lead to seven
Dainian Sloan and Jonah Larson continued to set up open shots for the post players underneath the basket.
The Warriors, feeling the pressure and unable to score from the paint, started taking more three point shots. They landed some but were unable to improve the seven-point deficit. The Sand Devils led 38-31 going into the final quarter.
In the final quarter Sloan found the bucket and worked his three-point shot to break open the quarter. Soon after, Jonah Holliday, under pressure, landed a three-point play lending high energy to the court.
Midway through the quarter Lane Dempsey landed a difficult and perfect reverse lay-up which brought cheers from the crowd. Jonah Larson followed that with a steal and returned it to the Warrior’s basket to up the Sand Devil’s lead.
Dempsey’s defensive play helped the Sand Devils retain their lead and keep their pace.
The Warriors’ Tristan Yazzie responded by landing several twenty foot three point buckets, but it wasn’t enough to close point spread. Robert Smith landed a three pointer and followed it up with an alley-oop to increase their lead by 12 near the end of the game.
Final score in a very clean and sportsman-like game was Sand Devils 56, Warriors 45. The Sand Devils finished third place and advanced to the state championship tournament.
Boys head basketball coach Russ Skubal gave credit to his team who again found their stride, used teamwork and had fun bringing home the win.
Coach Skubal also credits his freshman players who brought in the energy they needed to motivate one another to keep the pace.
Lane Dempsey won defensive player of the year and co-MVP.
Jonah Larson, Dainian Sloan and Justin Salabiye were chosen second team all tournament players. Cheyenne Richardson and Robert Smith were honorable mentions.
The Sand Devils start the state championship tournament tonight at 6:30 against Kingman at Page High School.