At this time last year, Corona del Sol would have had little or no chance at winning a close basketball game.
But a year of maturity has made this version of the Aztecs clutch.
For the second time in as many nights, Corona del Sol won a tight boys basketball game downing host McClintock, 67-64, Thursday in the semifinals of the McClintock Holiday Shootout.
The Aztecs will face 5A Central Region rival Desert Vista in the championship game at 8 p.m. today at Doc Zinke Gymnasium.
On Wednesday, Corona beat Saguaro 70-69 in overtime.
"Last year, we were on the learning curve," Aztecs guard Clayton Bates said. "We wouldn’t have won this game last year."
Bates and Brad Carroll each made two free throws in the final 15 seconds to help hold off the Chargers and remain a perfect 13-0 on the season. Bates even made his free throws with McClintock’s Dahir Nasser talking to him.
"I know him from AAU," Bates said. "He was trying to get into my head. It wasn’t anything bad."
Nasser’s long 3-pointer in the final seconds was no good for McClintock (12-4).
The Chargers trailed the Aztecs 55-46 with five minutes to play. But a 13-5 scoring run over the next four minutes cut the lead to 60-59 with 1:20 remaining. The Chargers even had a shot to take the lead, but Darrin Cobb’s jumper was off the mark.
Bates then scored on a fast-break layup and Demetrious Earl made one free throw to increase the lead to 63-59 with 30 seconds left.
McClintock made a similar rally in the first half trailing the Aztecs, 24-12, with eight minutes to play. Behind the play of B.J. Rogers, the Chargers got back within 34-33.
Rogers led all scorers with 20 points. Nasser had 15 points and Xavier Lucas added 10 for the Chargers.
"B.J. put his head down and went to the basket," McClintock coach Brian Fleming said.
Sean Imadiyi led Corona with 16 points. Bates had 12 points and Brett Miller 10 for the Aztecs.
DESERT VISTA 76, HAMILTON 63:
In the other semifinal matchup, Desert Vista was in control most of the night over Hamilton.
The Huskies trailed, 36-25, at the half and got to within six at 49-43 with 9:10 left when Innocent Wells scored.
Desert Vista answered with a 7-0 scoring run that started with a three-point play by Ty Abbott.
Desert Vista’s Garrett Lever led all scorers with 21 points.