Phoenix Pinnacle boys basketball upends Laveen Cesar Chavez to reach finals

There was no more celebrating than usual after Phoenix Pinnacle’s 69-59 victory over second-seed Laveen Cesar Chavez on Thursday at Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena.

But this was different, this got it over that boys basketball semifinal hump for the first time in school history.

After losing in the state semifinals each of the past two seasons, including a 62-58 setback to Cesar Chavez after winning a school-record 30 games last year, top-ranked Pinnacle (26-6) enters Saturday’s Division I championship game at Arena on a 16-game winning streak and with their two leaders, Drew Bender and Dorian Pickens, determined to finish it off.

“We’re here to win it,” Bender, the 6-foot-5 senior guard, said. “I promise you that, we’re going to play our hardest.”

Unlike last year, when Pinnacle started out slowly and couldn’t catch Cesar Chavez at the end, Pinnacle, particuarly Pickens, went to work right away Thursday.

Pickens scored his team’s first seven points, 10 of its first 13 and had 15 of his 32 points in the opening quarter, as Pinnacle jumped out to a 19-12 lead.

“I wanted to make a point and play good defense in the first half and get our momentum going,” said Pickens, a 6-4 junior guard.

Pickens may have had the game of his career. He made 12 of 18 shots, 7 of 9 free throws, 1 of 2 3-pointers, grabbed 12 rebounds and had two steals and two assists.

“He probably had his best game,” Pinnacle coach Charlie Wilde said. “He kind of took control early.”

Pickens’ memory was too vivid.

“I thought last year when we played them, we came out soft and didn’t play well in the first half,” he said.

Pinnacle came out with the same sense of energy it had to start the game in the second half, taking its largest lead, 50-36, late in the third period on a Bender 3-pointer.

Behind forward Pablo Rivas’ 22 points and 11 rebounds, Cesar Chavez (29-3) got within 59-52 with 2:35 left.

Bender scored on a drive and Pickens converted a three-point play to put the game away.

After making only 1 of 5 shots in the first half, Bender made 4 of 7, including 2 for 2 from behind the arc, in the second half.

He said he tweaked his injured ankle a few times during the game. But he will play every second of Saturday’s championship game if he can.

“Every athlete wants to get to the top,” Pickens said. “We’re definitely not done yet. It was important to get there. Now we want to win the game.”

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