The Fauske Five did it again.
This time, without its star.
With 6-foot-7 senior Carter Aby fouling out with 4 minutes, 55 seconds to play, San Tan Valley Combs turned to a red-headed kid who was only in his second year playing organized basketball to lead it to its first state final in any sport.
Clayten McCarthy went to work on the boards, made seven of his team’s 13 free throws in the final quarter and Combs advanced to the Division III boys basketball state championship game with a gritty 46-44 victory in the Division III state semifinals Friday night over Thatcher at Gila River Arena.
Combs (29-4) rides a 27-game winning streak into the school’s first final, playing Snowflake at 4 p.m. Saturday back at Gila River Arena.
“We knew we could get here,” said Combs coach Kirk Fauske, who has built this team since it began playing six years ago.
Nine seniors, many of whom have played together since the first grade, have paved the path.
But Aby, the polished senior, who fouled out with 19 points, watched from the bench during a tense stretch drive in the fourth, as Combs went into what Fauske described as a “Carolina” slow-down offense, spreading the court, working the ball inside for high-percentage shots.
“We’re a different team without Carter,” Fauske said. “We slow it down. We had a hard time figuring out the zone. I didn’t think we would hit as many free throws as we did.”
Thatcher (24-8), playing aggressively, putting Combs at the line repeatedly.
It shot 21 free throws in the final quarter, making 13.
“If you look at our stats, we’re probably shooting 50 percent as a team, so a lot of the time I wasn’t even looking,” Fauske said.
Thatcher lost rugged forward Jeff Shumway to five fouls with 1:11 to play and Combs taking a 44-35 lead.
But there was no quit in a Thatcher team that came up with a steal and last-second basket to beat defending state champion Chandler Valley Christian on Thursday night.
Carson Goodman hit a 3-pointer with 57 seconds left Friday, cutting it to 44-38.
Combs made just 2 of 6 free throws the rest of the way, and Thatcher made it look closer with a Mason Mortensen 3 as time ran out.
Aby was emotional after the win, in tears.
McCarthy was shaking, searching for words.
“This is unbelievable,” Aby said. “I can’t even express the feelings into words right now.
“I played a kind of sloppy game today but we’re going to come prepared. You’ll see a different Combs team tomorrow.”
Corona del Sol celebrates their win over Desert Vista in their Division I boys basketball championship game Monday, March 2, 2015 in Glendale.