Pinnacle hoping for better ending

Pinnacle hoping for better ending

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Pinnacle hoping for better ending

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Drew Bender has grown with the program, watching mediocrity blossom into greatness, but always ending the season with sadness.

As he leads Phoenix Pinnacle’s boys basketball team into another season with championship dreams in his head, the 6-foot-5 combo guard takes with him a few battle scars and some scores to settle.

The last two seasons ended in heartbreak in the Final Four, losing to Scottsdale Chaparral 61-58 in the Class 5A Division II semifinals his sophomore season and to Laveen Cesar Chavez 62-58 in the Division I semifinals as a junior.

Last year’s defeat was especially tough to take after a 30-win season.

So Bender and his sidekick, 6-foot-5 guard Dorian Pickens, hit the weight room, the gym, took countless shots, got the others involved in the task at hand. That would be to pick up the pieces and lead this team to the state championship.

Big man Cody McDavis has moved on to college. There is question about how Pinnacle will rebound. But coach Charlie Wilde will take what he calls a “two-headed horse” and ride it to a place the school has never gone.

“There are a lot of great teams, a lot of uncertainty, but this team definitely has the talent,” said Bender, who can play either guard position, and has been a solid all-around player, able to score, rebound, pass, defense and lead. “The strides we’ve made in practice the first couple of weeks have been incredible. We could be very very good.”

Pinnacle, azcentral sports’ No. 1-ranked Division I team heading into the season, may have the state’s best backcourt duo in Bender and Pickens. They’ve started together the past two seasons. Pinnacle will miss McDavis. But Wilde believes in 6-5 Lee Andari, who played well during a stretch late last season when McDavis was out with an injury.

Wilde said this team has motivation after losing close semifinal games the past two years.

“They talk about it,” he said. “They know their goals. We always say, ‘You’ve got to be good, and you’ve got to have a little luck, too.’ You’ve got to have the ball bounce your way.”

Last year, nobody doubted Tempe Corona del Sol had all the pieces to win the big prize in preseason. It did with size and strength inside and outstanding backcourt play.

There is no clear Division I favorite this year. No team can say it has all of the ingredients. Mesa Mountain View might have the state’s best big man in junior Payton Dastrup. But there is a question at point guard.

Scottsdale Desert Mountain has a good scorer in Diego Magana, but how will newcomer Rolando Rhymes steer the offense now that he has been given the wheel after not playing last season because of his transfer from Phoenix St. Mary’s?

Mesa has size and shooters, but there are still more questions than answers after last year’s 14-13 season.

Chaparral also has size and capable scorers, but how will new coach Dan Peterson blend all of the pieces?

Mesa Dobson got two key transfers in guards Jaron Hopkins) and Ryan Richardson to go with shooter Kodi Justice. But how will chemistry go?

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