Salt River girls basketball beats Arizona Lutheran

Salt River girls basketball beats Arizona Lutheran

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Salt River girls basketball beats Arizona Lutheran

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With the season Scottsdale Salt River is having, it was pretty easy to predict when coach Shawn Lytle would earn his 200th career win.

Entering Friday’s Division IV, Section I semifinal game against Phoenix Arizona Lutheran at Peoria High School, Salt River had won 13 games in a row and had lost only one game to an Arizona opponent all season, and that was a Division I team.

So the Salt River faithful, armed with a plaque commemorating the occasion and a basketball decorated and signed by the team, probably wasn’t expecting much drama.

But drama is what they got, as Salt River had to hold on in the final minutes to beat Arizona Lutheran 48-43 to clinch a spot in the section finals.

“We weathered the storm,” Lytle said.

Salt River will face defending state champion Tempe Prep, a team it beat by two in late January, in the section title game at 5:45 Saturday at Peoria.

Salt River (25-4) led 14-4 after a quarter, but hit a sudden cold streak in the second to let Arizona Lutheran (17-10) back in the game. Salt River turned the ball over on its first four possessions of the second quarter, and went 1 of 16 from the field in the period.

By halftime, Arizona Lutheran had cut the lead to 20-17.

“Give them all the credit in the world,” Lytle said of Arizona Lutheran. “They came out and continued to work hard.”

Both teams played sloppily in the first half, committing a combined 28 turnovers. That changed in the second half, with each team turning the ball over only seven times.

Salt River got back into an offensive groove, taking a 32-24 lead entering the fourth. Again, Arizona Lutheran started slowly, going 2 of 13 from the field and missing nine consecutive shots at one point.

“Against a good team like Salt River, you’ve got to be making them the whole game,” Arizona Lutheran coach Jeremy Strassburg said.

Shots finally fell in the fourth quarter as Arizona Lutheran made a frantic comeback, much of it from beyond the arc.

The first Arizona Lutheran bomb, from guard Emily Neeb, cut the lead to 38-33 with 4:15 left. Janie Unkefer added another almost two minutes later to cut the lead to four, and Bethany Sebald and Karolyn Lamberson hit back-to-back threes to make it 45-42 with 28.2 seconds remaining.

Strassburg called a timeout after each make to rally his team and talk strategy. After Lamberson’s final salvo, he was out.

So was Arizona Lutheran, as Salt River hit three of four free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

“My team is never-give-up,” Strassburg said. “They’re going to play hard no matter what. They’re going to do whatever they can to scratch, claw and get back into the game possible. That’s what we did again.”

Sarah Unkefer and Sebald each scored 10 points for Arizona Lutheran. Salt River was led by Joy Manuel (13 points, 12 rebounds, seven steals) and Rachel Cooper (13 points).

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