It took three chances for Desert Vista to finally beat Highland and the Thunder waited until the most opportune time, the state tournament.
Chris Grey scored 20 points and Xavier Kilby added 14 to lead 14th-seeded Desert Vista to a 64-52 upset of No. 3 Highland on Thursday night in the second round of the state 5A boys basketball tournament.
"It’s a real big win," Kilby said. "We lost to them by 41 and lost again to them so it’s a big win for us."
The Hawks blew out the Thunder 79-38 two days after Thanksgiving and then by five on Dec. 11. They got off to a quick start Thursday, but didn’t have an answer for Desert Vista’s 3-point shooting. The Thunder (17-11) made eight and then held off Highland’s late charge to advance to Saturday’s quarterfinals against another surprise, No. 22 seed (and Central Region rival) Marcos de Niza.
"I think they played the game of their lives," said Highland coach John Burns. "They shot above their heads. We didn’t play bad. We played OK."
Burns saw his earliest exit from the state tourney in his three seasons at Highland. In 2002, the Hawks lost in the state final while getting to the semis in 2001 and 2003. The only other program that successful in the last two seasons is Desert Vista.
But the Thunder didn’t look like that kind of team much of the season, Harris said.
"Earlier in the year we would not have won that game," he said. "So that shows the maturity of this ballclub. They (the Hawks) made their run. I thought we responded well. That shows the maturity of those guys, the perseverance, the heart tonight of our young men."
Kilby said the performance his team put forth was important.
"It gives us a lot of confidence, especially now that we are at the end of the season," he said.
"We kind of have a lot of things figured out that we didn’t have figured out at the beginning."
Riley McCormick had 17 points, including four 3-pointers, Ryan McCurdy 16 and Ty Del Re 14 for the Hawks.
Late in the third, the Hawks (25-3) ran off three straight long shots of their own to erase an eight-point deficit and take a 42-41 lead with 1:41 left in the third.
But then, Grey hit a 3, Kilby made a short hook and Josh Jolin (7 points) hit a jumper to give the Thunder a 51-42 advantage less then two minutes into the final period.