Getting to the finish line requires getting off to a strong start, and the Scottsdale Saguaro boys did just that in the first round of the 4A Division I boys state basketball tournament.
The Sabercats got 26 points from guard Dominick Ruth and 24 from 6-foot-4 junior forward Steven Morin to beat fellow Desert Sky Region member Phoenix Shadow Mountain 79-60 on Tuesday at Saguaro High School.
The fourth-seeded Sabercats will next take on 12th-seeded Tucson Canyon del Oro, who pulled off a 57-51 upset of fifth-seeded Phoenix Sunnyslope.
“The first game is always the hardest game, for any team,” Saguaro coach Bob LaRue said. “We played pretty well for the first game, but we’ll have to play a lot better in the next.”
Both teams opened with a strong first quarter, but Saguaro built a 10-point lead at the break. Shadow Mountain, however, could not stop the Sabercats’ outside shooters — Morin and Ruth — in the second half. The big run came in the third, when the Sabercats raced to 27 points to grab a 22-point lead.
“We forced some shots and we got away from our post game,” Shadow Mountain coach Cain Jagodzinski said. “They did a great job or quadruple-teaming Austin (Graff).”
Graff, an all-region performer and the Matadors’ leading scorer, wound up with 22 points.
“We got a little sloppy to start,” LaRue said. “Graff is a load. We had to slow him down before we could slow the team down.”
LaRue admitted that the matchup was worrisome after having faced Shadow Mountain two times during the regular season (both 19-point victories). He also said that because it was the first game of the state tournament, he was particularly concerned about the mentality of his players.
“It’s do or die right here, they better be ready to play,” La Rue said. “I shouldn’t have to say much to get them motivated.”
Motivation for the next round should not be an issue, as the Sabercats have already faced Canyon del Oro once, escaping with a 68-65 win on Nov. 29.