PRESCOTT VALLEY — Even though Scottsdale Salt River had already defeated defending champion Tempe Prep three times this season, coach Shawn Lytle knew Saturday’s Division IV championship game would be a challenge.
“As the adage goes, ‘It’s hard to beat a team three times,’” he said. “And it’s even harder to beat a team four times.”
Two critical last-minute free throws proved to be the difference in a tight battle as No. 1 Salt River escaped with a narrow 37-35 victory over No. 2 Tempe Prep and the Division IV title at Tim’s Toyota Center.
With the game tied at 35 all, Tempe Prep sent Salt River’s Kishan Cooper to the free throw line, and the senior made both free throws to give Salt River a two-point lead with 10 seconds remaining. Tempe Prep got off two attempts on its last possession, but both were off the mark and Salt River secured the victory.
Cooper said she did her best to remain calm on her final trip to the line.
“I know my team believes in me so I had to believe in myself,” she said. “And that’s what I did — I pictured myself shooting it and making it and that’s what happened.”
After a tight first three quarters, the teams were tied at 22 heading into the final eight minutes. Salt River’s Briana Kewanwytewa led the offense in the fourth quarter, scoring 10 points, including two 3-pointers. Camille Zimmerman put up seven points for Tempe Prep in the final quarter, finishing the day with 17. Zimmerman also had 10 rebounds and three steals.
The teams were pretty evenly matched on the boards, despite Tempe Prep’s height advantage.
“Really, we’re not a great defensive rebounding team, but we just have the determination,” Lytle said.
Tempe Prep defeated Salt River all four times the two teams met last year, including in the state semifinals, so this year has been a complete role reversal for both squads.
“They’re a good team,” Lytle said. “It’s good being on the other end of the stick this year.”