Phoenix Pinnacle coach Troy Wiese pulled a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket during his postgame interview. While it looked like it should have contained a grocery list, to Wiese it was his basketball bible.
It was the practice plan that Pinnacle ran Wednesday before beating Gilbert Highland 61-49 in the Division I state semifinals Thursday at Wells Fargo Arena.
Pinnacle (33-2) will face the winner of Chandler Hamilton and defending champion Phoenix St. Mary’s in the state finals at 2 p.m. Saturday at Jobing.com Arena. It will be the sixth title game appearance for Pinnacle in the last seven years. All six trips ended with losses.
The game couldn’t have started any better for Pinnacle or any worse for Highland (32-3). Pinnacle seniors Sydney Wiese and Britta Nordstrom combined to score all 17 of Pinnacle’s first-quarter points, which Highland didn’t make a shot from the field and managed just four points from the free throw line in eight attempts.
Was the game over already?
“I guess it looked like it,” Sydney Wiese said. “We thought that. But no, Highland’s a great team, and we knew that we were going to come back and hit us with what they have.”
Free throws vaulted Highland back into the game in the second quarter. Unable to consistently find shots from outside, Highland probed the inside of the bigger Pinnacle defense, drawing fouls.
Pinnacle compounded its problems by committing a few open court fouls that put Highland into the bonus. Midway through the second, Highland engineered an 11-1 run to cut the Pinnacle lead to 25-20, and all of the points scored in that span came at the charity stripe.
Highland shot 20 free throws in the first half and went 22 of 28 from the line for the game.
“I said in one of the time outs, ‘You can’t foul. You’ve got to make them the field goals,’” Coach Wiese said. “Then here they go right in there and they foul. God, great coaching.”
Pinnacle stopped the hacking and recovered to lead 28-20 at the half. Highland again worked its way back into the game, cutting the lead to 49-43 midway through the fourth quarter.
Highland guard Olivia Lucero drove to the hoop and hit a contested layup that would have made it a four-point game, but Highland post Megan Brown was whistled for a moving screen that nullified the basket.
Pinnacle’s Kenna McDavis nailed a corner 3-pointer and Wiese had a steal and layup to push the lead to 11 in 20 seconds after the call. It was a seven-point swing.
Highland coach Miner Webster’s view of the foul was obscured and complimented the officials on a game well called, but complained about the moving screen anyway. He knew it was the turning point in the game.
“It was huge,” Webster said. “Who knows, you can’t say it was the difference, but I would have like to play from that point, four down.”
Wiese and Nordstrom each scored 21 points for Pinnacle, and McDavis had 11. The three combined to go 8 of 16 from beyond the arc.
For Highland, Rebecca Rudd had 18 points and Lucero had 11, all but two at the free throw line.