CHINLE – Before Saturday’s sectional championship game, Fort Defiance Window Rock interim coach Brad Thorsted huddled his players in the locker room and asked, “Everybody excited about getting that trophy?”
They reponded, “Yes, sir.”
He corrected them. “No, the next play.”
Window Rock ended up grabbing that trophy by taking care of the ball, forcing turnovers, knocking down long 3-pointers, and beating bigger Snowflake to the glass for a 78-46 win before a crowd of about 6,000 at raucous Wildcat Den in the Division III, Section I final.
Window Rock (27-2) likely locked down the No. 1 seed and a bye to Friday’s second round of the Division III state tournament at Northern Arizona’s Walkup Skydome in Flagstaff. The brackets come out Sunday afternoon.
Thorsted had to practically pull senior guard Kyler Ashley away from a mob of fans long after Saturday’s victory. The longer he stayed on the floor to sign autographs and pose for pictures, the bigger the mob became.
Thorsted, who took over after the head coach and athletic director was fired five games into the season, told the players not to be satisfied with being champions of the rez. Window Rock is 23-0 under Thorsted, who was an assistant the past three years.
“Our ultimate goal is the state championship, but we focus on the next game,” said the 5-foot-7 Ashley, who had 21 points, including four 3-pointers.
Ashley was complemented by Dominique Dale’s 16 points and Darren Ashley’s 13.
Window Rock went through the White Mountains heavyweights — Show Low, St. Johns and Snowflke — to capture sectional.
Each opponent, it seemed, got bigger and tried to take the rez out of Window Rock’s game, which is to get the ball down the court at a furious pace and quickly move it around to the open shooter.
It started forcing quicker tempo in the second quarter against Snowflake (23-7) with a press that turned a tight game into a 41-30 halftime lead. Ashley had 13 points and three 3-pointers in the half.
“He makes everybody around him better,” Thorsted said. “We need to get back to business and take it one play at a time.”