In the final minutes of Tempe McClintock’s first-round state tournament game Tuesday night, point guard Stefanee Perez repeatedly pointed at the clock and yelled, “Look at the time!”
With a healthy lead over visiting Glendale Apollo, she could have been pointing out that her team was just moments away from an anticipated but early showdown with 4A Division I favorite Tucson Flowing Wells. But there was one flurry left to withstand.
Apollo climbed to within four points in the final minute, but steady free-throw shooting pointed the eighth-seeded Chargers into the 4A-I state girls basketball tournament quarterfinals with a 57-51 win. They will face top-seeded Flowing Wells, 53-20 winners over Goodyear Millennium, Friday night in Tucson.
“They’re strong and they’re aggressive,” Perez said of Flowing Wells. “It’ll be a challenge, but we’re prepared.”
McClintock never trailed against Apollo and led by 14 points midway through the fourth quarter.
A 7-0 run got the Hawks back in the game with 90 seconds to play. But Shannon Stealy converted 4 of 6 free throws, and Amy Patton nailed two freebies to ice the game after Apollo cut the lead to four points with 14 seconds to play.
The game never seemed in doubt despite the final score.
Patton took charge early, showing off her versatility to tally the first six points of the contest. In the opening moments she scored from the post on a hook shot, put back an offensive rebound, and intercepted an interior pass then drove the length of the floor to finish on the other end.
She led all scorers with 18 points. Perez scored 14, and Stealy added 11 off the bench.
The Chargers followed Patton’s lead by outscoring Apollo 18-5 to close out the first half and head into the locker room with a 28-14 lead they’d never relinquish.
Some believe Friday’s matchup with Flowing Wells is coming a few rounds early. Flowing Wells (30-1) suffered its only defeat at the hands of 5A power Gilbert, and McClintock (25-4) won a share of the first region championship in the program’s history.
“These kids have played some really good basketball teams this year,” McClintock coach Eric Magana said. “This game (against Flowing Wells is) no different. We were going to have to match up with them eventually anyway.
“This team doesn’t lack for confidence.”