Saguaro didn't look like a No. 2 seed after missing its first 16 shots in the Division II girls state quarterfinals on Tuesday night.
But when the Sabercats rallied to tie Tucson Palo Verde in the final minutes, it gave the Southern Arizona fans plenty to worry about.
Palo Verde led by as much as 18, but freshman Sydni Stallworth hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 18.5 seconds to lead the seventh-seeded Titans past Saguaro, 61-56, in the quarterfinals at Grand Canyon University.
Palo Verde (26-5) advances to Thursday's semifinals at Grand Canyon against two-time defending state champion Seton Catholic.
The Titans made all six of their 3-point tries in the first quarter and took advantage of poor Saguaro shooting. The Sabercats (26-6) missed all 15 of their shots in the period and the Titans led 22-4 after one.
"You can't dig yourself that big of a hole," Saguaro coach Chris Young said. "We couldn't make shots and they couldn't miss. When you are down that far to a good team, I thought we did a heck of a good job coming back, we just didn't make a couple of big shots at the end and they made some free throws."
The Sabercats actually missed their first 16 shots, until Casey Rarrick (18 points) made a layup in the first minute of the second quarter. Although Saguaro settled down a bit, it still trailed 30-18 at the break.
"Nerves, the arena, everything combined," Young said of his team's cold performance from the field. "We never really did get it going and we (normally) are a good shooting team."
Still, Saguaro (26-6) made the Titan fans nervous with eight points in a row - four off turnovers - to cut the lead to 46-42 with 5:31 remaining. Palo Verde settled down and built a nine-point advantage, but again Saguaro rallied, and when Caylee Vasquez (20 points) made the second of two free throws with 2:19 left it was tied at 54.
Young said his team had no choice but to step up its defensive pressure.
"We had to. We weren't making shots and needed to force the issue and hope they turned the ball over," Young said. "They did. We got some transition points to get us back in the game but we just didn't knock down the shots when we needed them."
Palo Verde finally broke the Sabercat press and scored on Jasmine Clay's short baseline jumper with 1:02 left to break a 56-56 tie. But the nerves apparently didn't hit the Tucson team.
"You can't think like that, on the bench we tried to make light of it," Palo Verde coach Scott Epstein said. "We were joking around and saying that we were giving everyone their money's worth, their 8 dollars worth. You gotta just stay in it."
With the score tied and inside a minute to play, Saguaro missed, and when Stallworth missed a runner, she grabbed her own rebound and was fouled. Going to the line for the first time in the game, she made 1-of-2 free throws to give Palo Verde a 59-56 lead. Saguaro's Jamie Huma missed a 3-pointer on the next possession and Stallworth was fouled again on the rebound.
Alicia Jones hit all three of her shots beyond the arc in the opening quarter and finished with 20 points. Darian Saunders added 13, all in the second half, for Palo Verde.
The Sabercats kept it interesting by scoring nine points off four turnovers in the final four and a-half minutes of the third quarter and was within 41-32 going into the final quarter.
Palo Verde beat No. 10 Glendale Cactus in the second round while Saguaro beat El Mirage Dysart by 20 last Friday.