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Sunrise Mountain girls stun Kellis to keep title defense alive

Posted 2/27/24

Of all the possible outcomes of the final 13 seconds of the Sunrise Mountain-Kellis girls basketball quarterfinal Saturday night, the least likely result was the one that happened.

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Sunrise Mountain girls stun Kellis to keep title defense alive


Of all the possible outcomes of the final 13 seconds of the Sunrise Mountain-Kellis girls basketball quarterfinal Saturday night, the least likely result was the one that happened.

Trailing 55-52 and inbounding the ball with 13.2 seconds left, the Mustangs worked it to junior guard Jaden Maza in the corner. She was fouled with 10.9 seconds left and made the first two free throws.

Maza missed the third free throw and chaos ensued, as Kellis tried to control the rebound only for Kazandra Montalvo to knock it free. She got it to Maza, who tried another three.

Junior guard Laney Demaree, who had two points thus far, was waiting and put back the rebound with two seconds left for an improbable 56-55 lead. When Kellis' late heave missed, #5 seed Sunrise Mountain (25-6) paid back a regular season sweep and continued the defense of its 5A title.

"It was a very surreal moment. Especially since it was the left side and I'm not as comfortable with with my left side. When it went in, so much relief washed through me," Demaree said. "I think it was really helpful to be in a supporting role last year. We learned what we should and should not do from those seniors."

The Mustangs had to top seed Gilbert Williams Field (22-8) Tuesday night with ample momentum.

These teams have not played since the Mustangs eliminated the Black Hawks in the first round of the 5A playoffs in February 2022. Last year Sunrise Mountain won its first 5A state title.

"They have that in them and they drew on that experience," Sunrise Mountain coach Jen Tolle said. "I know Williams Field has been having a great season, and they like to press. They're kind of similar to Kellis, so hopefully this game prepares us."

A precocious Kellis (24-5) team that earned the number four seed playing five sophomores, one junior and one freshman was left in shock in its Glendale gym.

The inbounds play after Demaree's putback was a major source of frustration. Star sophomore guard Shanielle Mallory was knocked down before the ball was thrown in but no foul was called.

"The non call on Shainelle was pretty frustrating especially considering the foul right before was kind of a 50/50 call in my opinion. If one is going to be called then both should be but that’s basketball and we won’t always get the call," Kellis coach Shanelle Balark stated in a Monday interview. "We definitely made mistakes that would have not put us in that situation. "

The Mustangs jumped out so fast Saturday night that a Kellis comeback and end-game dramatics looked highly unlikely.

Kellis cruised 64-37 in the first meeting of these district rivals in Glendale. Then in Peoria Feb. 6, the Cougars led 36-18 in the third quarter and 14 in the fourth before the Mustangs figured something out and cut the deficit to two.

"We were a lot more intentional this time about breaking the press and when we broke the press and setting up our offense and having an idea what we wanted to do," Tolle said. "We were really frantic in the last two games."

While Kellis won, the Mustangs momentum carried over a couple of weeks.  Sunrise Mountain executed with precision in halfcourt sets and led the Cougars 28-12 late in the second quarter.

"I told Jaden yesterday, 'You're the key to this game.' We felt like she was going to get the cleanest looks and she did a great job tonight," Tolle said. "We were definitely going with the hot hand at the end."

Maza scored 15 of her team's 28 points, including a pair of treys set up by the attack and kick style of Savanna Dotray, who had five assists in the half.

"I'm not going to lie. I knew in warmups. In warmups I was shooting really hot. On the bus I just had that feeling," Maza said. "I was already in my mode. Me and Savanna played with each other since eighth grade. Over summer and fall we were making it work. ANd in region play we clicked again."

Freshman Mia Wolfe's trey and two driving layups by sophomore forward Luz Marian Santos Mas gave the home team new life and a 28-19 halftime deficit.

The rally continued in the third quarter, with six points by Mallory and four more late by sophomore center Nevaeh Limbacher allowing the Cougars to tie it at 37 as the third quarter ended.

"I’m super proud of the way that this team handles adversity. I knew when the game started to slip away that we could come back. They have done a great job creeping back when in a deficit this and not getting rattled when they are down. Most of our team is pretty even keeled and is able to bounce back when necessary," Balark stated.

Dotray had four points early in fourth quarter to help build a four-point lead early in the fourth, as Maza and Mallory traded threes.. But Wolf and Mallory then each hit a trey for a 48-46 Kellis lead.

Two more Dotray buckets put Sunrise Mountain up 50-48. Cougars sophomore Jeorgina Parks-Rodriguez responded with four of her own. Santos Mas and sophomore center Addison Wiemann traded buckets and Wolfe made one of two free free throws to set up the final sequence.

While Dotray and, to a lesser extent Demaree and Maza, are the only players returning from the state champion's rotation, the returnees learned something from last year's run.

"I think that speaks to the thing this group been trying to grow in all season. Trying to withstand momentum swings. Just being calm and mentally tough in the moment," Tolle said.

This is the second straight 5A quarterfinal appearance for Kellis, but feels like only the start of smething big.

The Cougars started four sophomores and a freshman, and brought another sophomore and a junior off the bench.

"100% this loss was necessary for us show us our weaknesses and grow from them. Knowing that we are returning everyone next year allows us to continue to develop and get stronger this off-season. I think the ceiling is still very high for our kids especially considering how young we still are," Balark stated. "Overall, I don’t think this loss defines our season and how much we have accomplished this year. I’m very proud of how hard these girls have worked and I will keep pushing them to be better players and even better people."