Back in November Jay Caserio's Gilbert Tigers beat Mesa 44-42. Coming off of the Welcome to the Jungle Tournament it was an impressive win that relaxed his young team. Little did the Tigers know that three months later they'd see them again.
Tuesday night, the Tigers used a stifling defense that gave up just four points in the 2nd and 3rd quarters in a 56-39 victory to eliminate No. 7-seeded Mesa. It was a feat that left Jackrabbits coach Shane Burcar and an entire Mesa gym, perplexed.
"I feel we always get these kinds of games against Shane,” Caserio said. “We didn't feel overmatched, which was good.”
Gilbert hung around in the first half, trailing 20-18 at the break. The game pace slowed dramatically after a 16-14 Mesa led first quarter. Xavier Fuller and Doc Self exchanged triples in a back and forth opening frame, but the other eight on the floor couldn't hit much else.
On a team with seven sophomores and a few juniors, Caserio had to find some leadership early in the year. He had two vital seniors in Trajon Hawkins and Tyler Laganke.
Hawkins hit a jumper and then a wide-open three to end any comeback idea that the Jackrabbits had. Fuller and Mark Hatch pulled it within 38-32.
Laganke also hit several shots down the stretch. Self and Carson Towt, both juniors, also contributed. The difference tonight was the young kids growing up. Brycen Long and Paul Maldonado chipped in to combine for double-figures.
Mesa got it within six but couldn't stop the Tigers on the other end.
"That's a great program we just beat,” Self said. “Our defense came to play. To hold any team to four points in any quarter is impressive. We did it twice. We can't look too much into it as we know who is ahead," stated Self.
Gilbert faces another opponent from earlier in the season in No. 2-seeded Pinnacle Friday night on the road. Tip-off at 6:30. But, Caserio didn't want to cross that bridge just yet.
"We will start that film tomorrow,” Caserio said. “These games against Mesa are like this. Nobody can get to 50 it seems. We've had an idea of our next opponent so it should bring familiarity. I'm just proud of my boys tonight."