Sam Duane looked at the players in front of him and wondered if it could be done.
Tempe Corona del Sol had lost three starters off last year’s state-championship team, including Player of the Year Calaen Robinson and big men Avery Moss and Andrus Peat.
That team had been dominant, winning 30 consecutive games en route to the Division I championship.
This team? Sure, it would be good. It had Casey Benson and Bryan Siefker, who is all floor burns and clutch shots. But it didn’t have much size. And winning a second time — especially a second straight time — is always harder.
“I would not have told you in November we’d but cutting the nets down,” Duane said.
But that’s exactly what Corona del Sol did Saturday, staging a remarkable comeback to beat Phoenix Pinnacle 63-59 at Jobing.com Arena.
Pinnacle led 57-50 with 3:32 remaining. Corona del Sol ended the game with a 13-2 run.
“I don’t know how,” Duane said. “These guys just have a great belief. They’re winners.”
This is the tightrope Corona del Sol walked during the postseason: It needed double overtime — and a couple of miraculous shots from Benson — to beat Phoenix Mountain Pointe. It hung on to beat Goodyear Millennium by one point. It cruised — at least by its standards — to an eight-point victory over Scottsdale Desert Mountain in the semifinals.
And then, Saturday.
Four wins by a grand total of 14 points.
Dominance? No. A sweeter satisfaction because of the struggle? You bet.
“We lost a lot of great players,” said Siefker, who had a team-high 19 points with five rebounds and three assists. “There were a lot of doubters, obviously.”
Duane was among them. But he did a better coaching job this year than last year when Corona del Sol, in his words, was “big, athletic and strong. We just kind of enforced our will.”
Corona del Sol reinvented itself this season, relying more on 3-point shooting and structured sets than Robinson blowing by his defender for an easy bucket or Moss grabbing a rebound and dunking it.
“We had a bunch of different guys step up,” Benson said.
That was never more evident — or necessary — than on Saturday. Pinnacle’s big two of Dorian Pickens and Drew Bender went off, scoring 24 points apiece. Pickens had 18 points in the first quarter alone, including 11 in the first 2 1/2 minutes.
Pinnacle led 28-23, and it looked like it might go for 100.
“I told them (his players) that if they keep shooting like that, they deserve to win it,” Duane said.
But Pinnacle couldn’t keep up the frenetic pace. Corona del Sol just kept chipping away, bucket by bucket, even though Benson was having an off night, hitting 3 of 13 shots and going 0 for 4 from 3-point range.
“We just didn’t make the shots we needed to make,” Pinnacle coach Charlie Wilde said.
Still, when Pickens scored three straight buckets in the fourth quarter to extend the lead to seven, it appeared a foregone conclusion that Pinnacle would be celebrating its first boys’ state title.
But here came Corona del Sol one last time. If it wasn’t Siefker hitting a big 3-pointer, it was Cassius Peat bullying his way inside for 12 points or Adam Gleave hitting four clutch free throws as part of his 12 points, or Benson finding two teammates for easy layups and finishing with six assists.
It was, in every way, a team effort.
“We know how to win,” Duane said.
Sometimes, that’s enough.
Reach Bordow at email@example.com or 602-444-7996. Follow him at Twitter.com/sBordow.