Log in


Ironwood locks down Casteel, brings 2nd title to Glendale

Gifft scorches nets for 27, defense does rest

Posted 3/2/24

PHOENIX - Size matters less if speed consistently beats it to the spot and the smaller guys wear out the bigs by making them chase on defense.

More often than not Friday night, Ironwood (27-3) used their speed, skill and team concept

You must be a member to read this story.

Join our family of readers for as little as $5 per month and support local, unbiased journalism.

Already have an account? Log in to continue.

Current print subscribers can create a free account by clicking here

Otherwise, follow the link below to join.

To Our Valued Readers –

Visitors to our website will be limited to five stories per month unless they opt to subscribe. The five stories do not include our exclusive content written by our journalists.

For $6.99, less than 20 cents a day, digital subscribers will receive unlimited access to YourValley.net, including exclusive content from our newsroom and access to our Daily Independent e-edition.

Our commitment to balanced, fair reporting and local coverage provides insight and perspective not found anywhere else.

Your financial commitment will help to preserve the kind of honest journalism produced by our reporters and editors. We trust you agree that independent journalism is an essential component of our democracy. Please click here to subscribe.

Charlene Bisson, Publisher, Independent Newsmedia

Please log in to continue

Log in
I am anchor

Ironwood locks down Casteel, brings 2nd title to Glendale

Gifft scorches nets for 27, defense does rest


PHOENIX - Size matters less if speed consistently beats it to the spot and the smaller guys wear out the bigs by making them chase on defense.

More often than not Friday night, Ironwood (27-3) used their speed, skill and team concept on both ends to frustrate and flummox Queen Creek Casteel in a 5A boys basketball title game that turned into a rout.

Following a competitive first half, the Eagles limited the Colts to 10 second half points. Senior guard Noah Gifft was not bothered at all shooting in the bigger Veterans Memorial Coliseum, pouring in 27 points and hitting 5-10 threes ina 55-31 Ironwood win.

"We really listened and executed the game plan. We knew they had size but we felt if we could force them to be around the perimeter, we could have a lot of success tonight. Our guards did a good job being physical without fouling and fighting through screens," Ironwood coach Jordan Augustine said. 

Gifft is but one example of a senior class that grew tremendously as players and teammates after arriving at Ironwood in 2020-21, a year after the program's first tate title.

None of the six seniors made the varsity as freshmen. None of them even started regularly until this year, though Gifft led the 2022-23 team in scoring as its sixth man.

"Noah is that kid, and Blake is too. I'm surprised when we miss a shot. They make me look a lot more intelligent than I am, Noah shoots the heck out of it and we run a lot of actions for him to make it hard on the defense. And ultimately there's only so many screens you can fight through," Augustine said. "I knew in the first quarter that we were going to win because we have Noah Gifft."

Gifft came in averaging 23.4 points a game while fellow shooting guard Blake Carabio - the 8th man last year - scored 16.2 a game.

Senior wing Jadden Jones entered the season with five games of varsity action. He led the Eagles in rebounding this year, as a 6-1 guard setting screens and guarding power forwards.

"It's our program, man. Everybody asks what it is about Ironwood and how we constantly are good. It's because I have some of the best young men you'll ever meet. And they want to play for each other," Augustine said. "I turned and told the assistants that what turned the game tonight was Jadden Jones' development. They were hurting us with the 1-2-2 and we were able to attack from the baseline with him. He's a kid that his freshman year would have gotten cut from the vast majority of programs. The first shot I ever saw him shoot, he airballed a layup ... so there's that story. He wasn't the plan. But he made himself the plan because he wanted to get better."

Jones affected the game greatly, despite scoring only three points and taking only two shots. He tied Casteel senior center Kaelum Brown for the game high with seven rebounds, and added three assists.

Gifft began the game with an old-fashioned three-point play, then two swishes in the opening quarter, He scored all nine Eagles points in the first quarter.

He would finish the first half 3-6 from deep for 12 of the Eagles 26 points.

"It felt great. It's all eye depth perception and once you get used to it, it's fine. You shoot every day," Gifft said. "You've got to just feel it out. Some people struggle with that and it comes easy for some people. If you shoot 10,000 shots in summer it's all going to come."

Casteel coach Aaron Windler said it's hard to call one moment in a 24-point loss a turning point. But things headed south for his team when Brown picked of his third foul battling for a loose ball with Ironwood's Josh Dillard.

The Colts led 10-9 at that juncture early in the second quarter. That was their last lead of the night.

"He actually had grabbed the rebound first and the guy grabbed it. They guy came over and grabbed Kaelum's arm and they didn't make the call. Yeah, it impacted the game. But at the end of the day, they made shots and we didn't," Windler said. "It's different shooting in the big gym. We didn't shoot well at Section 7. You know what though, Jordan does a heck of a job with his kids and they'd run through a brick wall for him. If I'm going to lose to seomebody, I want to lose to somebody I really respect."

Junior point guard I'yar Shadowvine, Ironwood's lone returning starter this year, quickly hit a trey and Carabio added his own. Shadowvine then completed a three-point play and Ironwood led 18-10 and Casteel called time.

Casteel rolled off an 8-0 run behind junior Jeremiah Robertson to cut it to 21-20. 

With 32.7 seconds left, Ironwood sophomore forward Cayden Whetsel made arun stopping double clutch layup, was fouled and made the free throw to stop the run at 24-20. Shadowvine went end to end in less than six seconds to give his team a 26-21 lead at the break.

The Eagles, despite being smaller at nearly every positional matchup, had a 15-14 rebounding edge at halftime.

"Our coaches, in making scouting reports, put in so much time and effort for us. They sacrifice for us until 2 a.m. We've got to execute," Gifft said.

Gifft started the third quarter with a corner three. At the 6:45 mark Augustine's team faced its one bit of second half adversity, when its "big,"  sophomore forward Josh Dillard, picked up his fourth foul.

Enter another senior development story, 6-4 senior Mawud Makuei. He picked up four point, four rebounds and a block in the second half as Dillard fouled out.

"Mawud was another kid that didn't make our team last year. He worked his way into the rotation. My center got fouled out tonight and he's guarding their big," Augustine said. Noah Gifft was on our freshman team as a freshman, and he's the all-time leader in threes made and he didn't make a three until he was a sophomore. How many kids would have transferred? He watched film every day his freshman year and asked how he can get better, instead of making excuses fir where he was. This entire team, the story is wuit making excuses, quit asking for things to be easy. Embrace tough and just go get better."

Makuei's offensive rebound and putback put the Eagles up 32-25. Gifft hit an NBA-range three for 35-25.

Shadowvine, the second leading scorer in the game with 14 points, followed with his own trey at the 4:28 mark. Other than Casteel senior forward Aidan Schmidt's  layup, that was it for the quarter and Ironwood led 38-27.

That was also it for the Colts. Ironwood scored the first 11 points of the fourth quarter and led 49-27.

Players could celebrate, and senior Dino Jukic, who missed the year with a knee injury, got to play in a state title game.

"Playing and winning with your brothers means more than playing with someone you've only known a few months," Jones said.

It was not Casteel's night. The only Colt that seemed comfortable in the big arena was senior spot up shooter Nathan Huston, who made three of four treys and led the team with 10 points.

This was a breakthrough season for Windler's program, as Casteel went 23-7 and made its first basketball title game at any level, after a 15-13 year in 2022-23. A young program that had not won a 5A playoff game before this year won three to get to the finals and planted its flag.

"At 23-7 I feel like we overchieved as a group," Windler said. "I'm really proud of my coaches and really proud of my players. You're competing with Basha, Perry, Campo Verde, Queen Creek and now Crismon. It's really challenging. But I'm still a believer that if you do things the right way, good things are going to happen. No one is going to outwork my players and coaches."

"Every bit of it was demanded out of us. Our goal is to raise our standards and be the best version of ourselves and relentlessly pursue excellent," Gifft said. "We're not a goal-driven program. We're a transformational program. You're trying to make yourself better. We got better and it showed.