Call Cory Kasperson clutch. Everyone at Valley Christian is now.
The final game of his high school career quickly became a career night, and not only because this group of six seniors at Valley Christian longed for a championship after four years of close-but-not-quite.
It's because Kasperson, who averaged 7.7 points per game this season, scored a career-high 24 as those seniors cemented that long-awaited championship with a 64-53 win over Cortez in the Division III boys basketball title game on Saturday night at Jobing.com Arena.
It was Valley Christian's fifth state title - all under coach Greg Haagsma - and the first since 2007.
"And it's been too long," he said.
Kasperson fixed that problem, but a team whose offense revolved around T.J. Widner and Brandon Haagsma (combined 31 points per game on average) the past two years instead came from a couple complimentary kids in Kasperson and Zach Wolf.
Kasperson hit five 3-pointers, but wasn't a one-trick pony as he took his shots at the basket and made three of four free throws in the fourth quarter as the Trojans never allowed Cortez to make a run.
What was the now-second-best game of his career?
"I couldn't tell you to be honest," he said.
Actually, his previous career high was 16 points (twice) his freshman year, but who's remembering that anymore?
He scored five in the first quarter when Valley Christian jumped out to a 9-0 lead to begin the game.
He hit a pair of 3-pointers in the second quarter, scored five of his eight third-quarter points in the final minute and had five more in the fourth as Valley Christian (24-8) maintained a 7- to 8-point lead most of the final stanza despite some late sloppiness.
Widner, who, along with a few others on the team, double-dips as a standout football player, wound up with 14 points, but Kasperson and Wolf's 12 points made up for any pitfalls.
"They came up huge," Widner said as his teammates cut the net nearby. "The seniors have been through a lot and we felt it was our turn, and we came out and showed it."
After being overwhelmed by a Gilbert Christian gauntlet last year in the championship game as juniors, this season was hardly a cakewalk en route to this championship for the Trojans. But a couple percentage points in the power rankings went their way in terms of avoiding more dangerous early-round matchups even after a couple games got away from them.
"There's no more disappointing feeling," Kasperson said of the title game loss in 2013.
This was the third meeting this season between the schools after each team won once before. Cortez's athleticism combined with its outside shooting figured to be a problem for the Trojans, but Kasperson and Wolf kept Valley Christian ahead 35-29 at halftime and 47-40 after three quarters.
The Trojans' 6-0 run to begin the fourth quarter proved insurmountable for Cortez, thanks to consecutive three-point plays from Widner and Wolf.
The Trojans' defense did its part, but Kasperson - "He came out of nowhere tonight," according to Greg Haagsma - and Wolf didn't do their part.
They did better.
"Cory was unbelievable," Greg Haagsma said. "He's been a key member of this team, but how he played in this one, he came out of nowhere; not just the scoring, but rebounding and going after loose balls. He set the tone."
No. 2 Valley Christian 64, No. 9 Cortez 53
Cortez 19 10 11 13 -- 53
VC 21 14 12 17 -- 64
VC: Cory Kasperson 24, Will Carter 4, Jack Campbell 4, Zach Wolf 12, Brandon Haagsma 6, TJ Widner 14
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.