PRESCOTT VALLEY — Riding along on a 17-game winning streak and with a potential showdown against nemesis Tempe Prep on the horizon, the top-seeded Scottsdale Salt River girls basketball team ran into a formidable roadblock in Joseph City on Friday.
But Salt River handled that obstacle the only way it knows how — by knocking it down.
Using a punishing, physical brand of defense, Salt River rallied from a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to pull out a 49-48 victory in a wild Division IV semifinal at Tim’s Toyota Center.
Kishan Cooper’s free throw with 17.5 seconds left gave Salt River its first lead of the second half, and pushed it into today’s final against the reigning state champs. Tempe Prep swept four meetings between the two teams last year.
For most of Friday’s game, Joseph City’s twin towers of Searra Hansen and Kristin Baldwin and shifty guard Taylor Hill gave Salt River fits, pushing Joseph City to a 39-27 edge with under seven minutes to play.
But Salt River (29-4) made life rough for Hill down the stretch, using two and three defenders to body up the 5-foot-3 ballhandler and often knock her to the floor.
“Yeah, it was physical,” said Salt River coach Shawn Lytle, who picked up a technical in the fourth after a crisp chest pass to an official following a close call. “We got back into it with defense and rebounding. We knew nobody else could really handle, so we really trapped (Hill), and we were hoping she’d make some questionable decisions.”
Cooper finished with 14 points for the winners, including six free throws in the final quarter. Briana Kewanwytewa also had 14 points, including a trio of 3-pointers.
Hill led Joseph City with 16 points while Baldwin and Madison Fields each had 10 as they came up just short of a second straight appearance in the final.
“That was disheartening,” Joseph City coach John Bryant said. “Truthfully, I thought we were the better team, but you have to give Salt River credit. They made some big shots down the stretch. I think if we play that five times, we probably beat them four out of five. And this is the one they win.”