A carryover of confidence from an unlikely comeback win wasn’t surprising when Mountain Pointe grabbed an early lead Friday night at Hamilton.
The Pride played well down stretch of the regular season and roared back from a 14-point deficit to win in the first round earlier in the week.
It was clear early that the 10th seeded Pride was more than confident against No. 2 Hamilton. They were the aggressor, the ones getting to the loose balls and making just about every shot it took to put the defending champions behind nearly all game long.
Mountain Pointe never relinquished a second-quarter lead to knock off Hamilton 60-56 in the 6A Conference quarterfinals.
“That gave us a lot of confidence,” first-year coach Justin Hager said of the win over Xavier. “They just had to believe. Once the group buys into what we are trying to build, anything can happen.”
It certainly can, and did.
The Pride took the lead for good on layup by Isela Enriquez and back-to-back three-pointers by Eve Kulovitz in the midst of a 10-0 run for a 26-18 lead.
“She’s streaky,” Hager said. “Eve came out of it, and I’m proud of her. She’s a confidence kid. She’s a spot shooter, and you have to respect her.”
Mountain Pointe shot 71 percent in the first and took a 33-25 lead into halftime.
“It seemed like they didn’t miss a shot,” said Hamilton coach Trevor Neider, who led the Pride for seven seasons before taking over the Huskies prior to last year. “They got great looks and didn’t miss. It was bad rotations on our part, but give them credit.
“We couldn’t get that stop when we needed it, and they made their free throws.”
Hamilton made a push in the fourth quarter and closed within 55-53 on Maddie Fredrick’s 3-pointer with 53 seconds left, but the Pride didn’t wilt under the pressure of closing out the game as Bailey Osmer and Lexi Evans made some free throws down the stretch.
“It’s a blessing to have four years in and to take that next step,” Osmer said. “We believe in each other. They had faith in me, and I had to step up and make sure we finished.”
The Pride (23-9) advances to the semifinals for the first time since 2000-01 and will face No. 3 Valley Vista on Thursday at Gila River Arena at 3 p.m.
“We are going to keep on going,” Osmer said. “We are going to keep pushing and play as long as we can.”
Osmer finished with 15, while Jenise Strover had 16 with her strong post game and Kulovitz had 11.
Hamilton was led by Fredrick’s 20 and Maya Banks had a quiet 12 as the team played from behind for one of the very few times all year.
“We got a little rattled at times,” Neider said. “We were fine. We just couldn’t get them to miss a shot. They were in the zone all night long.”
The Pride hopes it continues for a game or two more as they get six days to prepare for Valley Vista, which one the regular season matchup 69-67 on December 2.
“All those games during the season prepared for us for this,” Hager said. “This is why you play a tough schedule. It had us ready for this thing, and it turned out all right for us.”
– Contact Jason Skoda at 480 898-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.