Chris Young didn’t have to dig too deep for motivation when his Saguaro girls basketball team assembled for preseason workouts in the fall.
A newspaper clipping that read “Saguaro falls short” was all the material the Sabercats coach needed before the 2012-13 campaign.
Last February, Saguaro was the No. 2 in the Division II state tournament but saw its season end prematurely at the hands of Palo Verde in the state quarterfinals. It was an ending Young and Co. had no intention of repeating in 2013.
While Young’s squad came into the this year’s tournament less-heralded than it had the previous season, No. 8 Saguaro (26-9) clawed its way through the first three rounds before completing its unfinished business with a 49-38 win over No. 6 Flowing Wells in Saturday’s Division II title game at Jobing.com Arena.
It's Saguaro's first girls basketball state championship, and, given a roster loaded with underclassmen, might not be its last.
“They are a great group of girls,” Young said after the victory. They’re talented, they listen and they keep improving. I’m just excited for them.”
After taking down No. 1 Bradshaw Mountain and No. 5 Liberty in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, the Sabercats received quite a test from Flowing Wells (29-5) through the first 24 minutes.
Despite taking a 15-11 first quarter lead, Saguaro struggled to contain the Caballeros’ star Lyndsay Leikem. The senior forward scored 13 first-half points for Flowing Wells and pulled the game even at 21-21 going into the half.
Coming out of halftime, Young decided to put his best offensive weapon, junior Casey Rarrick, on Leikem at the defensive end. The gutsy moved paid off as Leikem struggled to find her shot (1-of-4 from the field) in the third quarter. Sophomore Jelani Huma and Rarrick (15 points on 5-of-9 shooting) closed the period with back-to-back three-point shots, and Saguaro held a tight 38-35 heading into the fourth quarter.
The adage goes that defense wins championships, and the Sabercats certainly illustrated that during winning time at Jobing.com Arena.
After junior Naomi Reyes (scored nine of 13 total points in the fourthn quarter) extended the Sabercats’ lead to nine with an individual 6-0 run, Saguaro clamped down defensively on Flowing Wells forcing turnovers on five straight possessions. By the time Leikem got the Caballeros on the board at the 3:20 mark of the fourth quarter, Saguaro had built an insurmountable 44-34 lead.
“We put a lot of effort on defense and good things happened,” said Rarrick, who finished with a team-high 15 points. “That usually leads to offensive chances.
“Our game plan was to make sure Lyndsay didn’t score likely she usually does. We had to be really tough on her and box out. "...Really it was about getting all of the loose balls and outplaying them.”
Leikem finished her high school career with a game-high 19 points for Flowing Wells.
With the contest clearly in-hand, Young sent in senior Kaitlyn Quinn, who had been forced out of action since January due to a dislocated kneecap. As tears streamed down Quinn’s face in the final seconds it was clear the newspaper headline in the Sabercats’ locker room would have to change before next fall.
For the first time in school history, Saguaro had finally risen to the top.
“It’s amazing, truthfully I don’t think anyone besides the Saguaro community thought we could make it this far,” said Rarrick. “It feels so good being the first team ever since Saguaro has been around to win a state championship.”
Saguaro 49, Flowing Wells 38
FW 11 10 11 6 -- 49
SHS 15 6 14 14 – 38
Flowing Wells: Leikem 19, Walker 7, Fernander 4, Portela 4, Abeyta 2, Brinsfield 2
Saguaro: Rarrick 15, Reyes 13, Huma 9, Davis 6, Kleinsteuber 5, Rollins 1