It wasn't easy, but Corona del Sol has earned a trip to the Division I boys basketball quarterfinals by outlasting Scottsdale Desert Mountain 55-43 on Saturday night.
Entering the tournament as the top-ranked team in its Division, Corona (29-1) overcame a difficult start and a strong defensive effort from the Wolves (20-10) to take another step forward in its quest for a state championship.
"All of our guys took a little bit to get going; we just had early shots we couldn't make," Corona coach Sam Duane said.
Trailing in the middle of the second quarter, the Aztecs' stalled offense began to come alive after forward Avery Moss drained a free throw to complete a three-point play that put Corona up at the half. It was the highlight of a solid first-quarter for the senior, who was Corona's leading scorer in the first half and chipped in seven rebounds in the first half.
But even after taking a double-digit lead in the third quarter, Desert Mountain sliced Corona's advantage to four early in the fourth quarter. But Aztec star guard Calaen Robinson, who was held to six points in the first half, came alive and netted five consecutive points - capped by a free throw at the 4:50 mark - to put Corona up 41-32.
The Aztecs were able to hold on to their healthy lead throughout the rest of the fourth to seal the win and a trip to Wells Fargo Arena on Tuesday night.
"It's not always how you start, it's how you finish," Duane said, "and we finish pretty well."
Robinson ended the night as the game's leading scorer with 23 points and added five rebounds. Moss lead the team with 10 rebounds and finished with 10 points, all of which were scored in the first half.
Senior guard Anthony Tepedino ended his career as a Wolf with 11 points and junior guard Diego Magana was the team's second leading scorer, scoring nine points.
While Corona will face Brophy on Tuesday, the game marked the end of the season for a senior-laden Desert Mountain team Fazio said played its best against a "very, very good team."
"Any time you don't win it all, it's a little disappointing, but this is a special group," Fazio said. "Our kids didn't lose because of lack of effort; our kids played hard."