The first two times Tempe McClintock faced Phoenix Thunderbird, the stumbling blocks for the Chargers were Chiefs forward Zane Johnson and guard Peter Rodriguez.
That pair did some damage again Thursday, but it was guard Kyle Rassel who dulled the Chargers’ attempt at a second-half comeback.
Rassel scored all 14 of his points in the second half and helped Thunderbird stop Mc-Clintock 66-58 in the thirdplace game of the 4A Desert Sky Region tournament at Saguaro High School.
With the victory Thunderbird (20-11) snared the third and final berth from the region to next week’s 4A Division I state tournament. McClintock (12-14) would have gained a berth at state with a win, but Thunderbird’s ability to hit 3-pointers (five different players connected on at least one) and Rassel’s offensive output in the third period were a knockout blow. The top three teams in the current 4A-I power-point rankings are Scottsdale Saguaro, Phoenix Pinnacle and Thunderbird — all members of the Desert Sky.
“The first two times we played them they didn’t hit that many 3s,” McClintock coach Brian Fleming said. “Johnson was in a little foul trouble, too, but Rassel hurt us when we had a chance to come back.”
McClintock started fast, taking a 7-0 lead two minutes into the contest.
But the Chiefs pecked away and led by one at the end of the quarter and never trailed again. They upped the lead to 29-22 at halftime and enjoyed 10-point leads in the third and fourth quarters.
McClintock cut Thunderbird’s lead to five several times in the third and fourth quarters but could get no closer. Parker Barrett led McClintock with 18 points and Elgin Caldwell added 11.
Johnson, who is headed to the University of Arizona this fall, finished with a team-high 18 points. He scored 28 and 29, respectively, the first two times the teams played. Thunderbird won those games by four and five points, respectively. Rodriguez totaled 14 points.
“Zane makes it tough on you,” Fleming said. “If he goes inside and you double him he hits the open man for a 3. Their passing game is very effective. When they get some 3s and hit them you’re in trouble. …
“It’s a shame not all the teams in our region aren’t going to state. Our region is loaded. But the format is what it is. You have to live with it.”
Scottsdale Chaparral, which McClintock beat in Tuesday’s opening round, is 10th in the current power-point rankings. The Firebirds still might make the tournament by gaining the one at-large bid. Fifteen teams qualify through region tournaments. The highest team in the power rankings that doesn’t qualify in regionals gets the atlarge berth.