Chandler Seton Catholic senior Heather Heild mentally placed her back to the wall at halftime Thursday night after watching her club completely let an early 11-point lead slip away, and she thought back to an unsettling semifinal- round loss at state a year ago.
“I just told myself I’m not going home before the finals again,” said Heild, who scored 15 of her game-high 23 points in a pivotal third quarter in top-seeded Seton’s 58-47 win over No. 12 Buckeye in semifinal-round play of the girls Division II state basketball tournament at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale Thursday night.
Seton (30-3) advanced to the finals for the fourth time in five years and will face Vail Cienega, a 57-49 winner over Scottsdale Saguaro, Saturday morning at 9 at Jobing.com Arena.
Seton had its three-year three-year title run snapped by Gilbert Campo Verde in the semis a year ago and Heild didn’t forget.
“I had the mentality that if I got the ball I was going to shoot it,” said Heild, who hit a pair of 3s and then added a jumper to lift Seton to a 28-24 lead midway through the third quarter. Teammate Julia Barcello (13 points) added a 3 with 2:47 to play in the quarter for a 34-28 Seton lead. Heild closed the quarter with a jumper and then a 3 to lift Seton to a 39-30 lead at the end of three quarters.
“We just didn’t stay at home (on defense),” Buckeye coach Regina Early said. “We stayed at home all throughout the playoffs but not tonight.”
In the second, Barcello’s 3 gave Seton a 20-9 lead but the game changed 180 degrees from there. Buckeye (29-5) began to work it inside to Alliesandra Fuller, Buckeye’s 6’3 center and leading scorer on the night with 21 points. She responded with great success scoring eight points during an 11-0 Buckeye run to close the half, tied at 20.
“We were not bringing a lot of ball pressure on their guards in order to prevent those nice lobs inside to (Alliesandra Fuller),” Seton coach Karen Self said. “She’s a great player. She’s awesome. I give her all the credit in the world.”
But Buckeye’s big center was not able wrestle the game away from Heild.
“Heather came out on fire,” Self said. That’s what she does for us. She’s instant offense. Heather is a gamer. She does not like to lose. She competes so hard. She was not ready to go home today.”
Barcello’s 3 with 5:48 left in the game, gave Seton its biggest lead to that point at 44-32. Fuller hit a couple of inside shots and a pair of free throws to keep Buckeye close at 48-40 with 2:40 to play, but Barcello’s 3 broke Buckeye’s backs for a 50-40 lead with 1:29 to play.
Self credited freshman Liz Holter for her defensive work on Buckeye’s Bailey Wirtzberger, who was held to eight points, most of those coming very late in the contest. Dallas Jones had 10 for Buckeye.