There aren't nine lives to spare in the girls basketball state tournaments, but Highland's girls basketball team felt it used a few in one night.
The No. 2-seeded Hawks will practice early Saturday morning, an obvious sign of progress through the Division I tournament, but it might not be the most pleasant start to the day.
Highland eeked out a 31-30 victory on Friday night against feisty 15th-seeded Mesquite in the second round. It was the third meeting between these neighbors this season and second consecutive time these schools have played a one-point decision in the past 10 days. Highland won all three games.
Highland faces No. 7 Mountain Pointe on Monday at 6 p.m. at Arizona State.
Afterward, Hawks coach Miner Webster found little to praise about in his team's performance.
"We were out of character all night offensively and defensively, we did nothing the way we practiced all week," he said. "We hogged the ball and didn't play together."
But after Mesquite's second heartbreaking loss to the Hawks, Mesquite coach Candice Gonzalez managed to find plenty of solace.
"I'm proud of my girls, I couldn't ask them to do anything else," she said. "Little mistakes down the stretch could have made the differencee, but we could have been the team to win this round, and the next round."
Yet it's Highland which is still alive. The Hawks methodically came out of an early deficit highlighted by Mesquite freshman Issy Spruit's shooting barrage in the first half (three from beyond the arc) which helped the Wildcats to a 19-16 halftime lead.
Highland managed to successfully feed the ball inside to Liz Rudd and Megan Brown for easy baskets during a three-minute stretch in the third quarter to allow Highland a slim lead going into the fourth.
Neither team led by more than three points the rest of the night, and despite a drought of a fourth quarter in terms of scoring from both teams, the Hawks survived three missed free throws in the final minute.
Mesquite trailed 31-30 after one made free throw by Cecily Wilson with 1:30 left, but without a shot clock, Highland was allowed to run a full minute off the clock on the ensuing possession until Mesquite fouled the Hawks with 31 seconds left, then again with 21 seconds left.
"That wasn't the intention," Gonzalez said, frustrated by her team's lack of pressure defense during that stretch.
Mesquite still had chances because of Highland's missed free throws, but a turnover on an inbounds play with seven seconds in regulation left forced the Wildcats to foul again. Highland against missed the 1-and-1 free throw, but Mesquite's full-court baseball pass tipped off fingers and went out of bounds. Highland missed another free throw but Mesquite couldn't get another shot away.
"The ball would just stick on someone's hand," Webster said of his team's offense.
Olivia Lucero led Highland with 10 points while Brown scored six. Rudd and Melinda Myers each added five. Spruit finished with 12 points for Mesquite, and Ashley Alexander and Ally Exline each added five.
Highland's senior-laded roster lasts another night, while a Mesquite lineup loaded with underclassmen this season felt optimistic about its future even in another agonizing defeat.
"That's the beauty of this," Gonzalez said. "We have almost all our kids coming back. They want to win, why can't we?"
Mark Heller is the East Valley Tribune sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (480) 898-6576.