During a four-game stretch in early January, Mountain View senior guard Cherokee Davis might have been the best girls basketball player in the East Valley. The 5-foot-3 slasher averaged 31 points per game and shot 55 percent.
Without the bulk, she was back to being big-time as the 11th-ranked Toros used a strong fourth quarter to open the Division I basketball state tournament with a 52-38 victory over No. 22 Red Mountain on Wednesday in a game which remained close for 3 1/2 quarters.
Mountain View moves on to play at Avondale Westview in the second round on Friday night, a rematch of the 38-36 loss to Westview in the season-opening Highland tournament around Thanksgiving. The Toros did so by avenging a 45-43 loss to Red Mountain from early December.
The role of "closer" often goes to junior Armani Hawkins when the Toros need a basket, and the Arizona State-commit did her part late, but Davis got the ball (and baskets) rolling.
Hawkins' bouncing runner gave Mountain View a 22-13 lead at halftime, but Red Mountain went inside to Payden Fulton (seven points for the game) and Monika Kucerkova (10 points despite early foul trouble) and pulled within 33-30 to begin the fourth quarter on a buzzer-beater by Alyssa Alvarado.
But Hawkins (game-high 14 points) scored the first four points of the quarter, and Davis (12 points) followed with a 3-pointer.
"That really set us going," Toros coach Henry Bribiescas said.
She wasn't done, as she then fed Rachel McKay for a layup in transition. The lead grew back to 42-34 and the Lions couldn't come back again. A 12-0 run by Mountain View sealed the game.
"We got a better rhythm (after halftime)," Bribiescas said, noting his team notoriously has started games slowly most of the season.
Hawkins finished with 14 points, including six in the fourth quarter to shake off a rough shooting night. Red Mountain got nine points and an excellent all-around game from Alvarado and three 3-pointers by Seneca Richards.
Red Mountain's season ended, but not before they twice staved off nearly being routed. The Lions, however, had trouble with turnovers all night, a story of its season with only three seniors on the roster and without freshman starting point guard Quincy Baker since December because of torn ankle ligaments.
"That's us in a nutshell," Lions coach Martin Appel said of the comeback-turned-turnover quagmire. "They played hard but we're young in a lot of spots and not having our point guard made it tougher (this season)."
Still, the Lions have plenty to look forward to because of their youth and returnees, while the Toros must look forward to another trip to the West Valley on Friday, a region they spent nearly all of last week during the Super Sectional tournament.
Mountain View now has a second score to settle from the regular season.
"They're going to bring a lot of pressure but we held them pretty well defensively (in a 36-34 Mountain View loss)," Bribiescas said. "We're going to try and make them run a little more."
No. 11 Mountain View 52, No. 22 Red Mountain 38
RM 7 6 17 8 -- 38
MV 9 13 11 19 -- 52
RM: Chavez 2, Richards 9, Alvarado 9, Fulton 7, Kucerko 10
MV: Miller 6, D. Carmona 2, Davis 15, Heywood 9, A. Hawkins 14, R. McKay 4, Hooper 2
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune assistant managing editor. He can be reached at email@example.com or (480) 898-6576.