IN THE SPOTLIGHT
San Tan Valley Combs warmed up in its gym at 5:30 in the morning and heated up in the second half of its 9 a.m. game, eliminating Goodyear Estrella Foothills 56-34 with 6-foot-7 senior Carter Aby putting on a clinic of shooting, passing and rebounding.
Aby, who has an offer from the University of Antelope Valley, had 29 points, 16 rebounds, four assists and three blocked shots. He scored nine of Combs’ 11 first-quarter points and 17 of his team’s 23 first-half points.
It was Combs’ 26th consecutive win, but don’t tell that to coach Kirk Fauske, who began the program six years ago.
“We won 26 games in a row?” he asked sarcastically. “You’re kidding me. I don’t know anything about a streak. It’s one game at a time.”
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Combs (28-4) advances to Friday’s 8 p.m. semifinal for the first time in history.
There are nine seniors on this year’s team, most of whom have played together since they were first graders.
“The five starters were the Fauske Five, with the exception of the red head (Clayten McCarthy, who only began playing organized basketball last year),” Fauske said. “They’ve been together since the first grade.”
It’s been a final four team in the making.
Two years ago, they won 17 games, then followed that up with 23 wins and a state quarterfinal finish.
Now, a championship is within reach.
“Three years ago, you guys (in the media) were calling us, ‘Coombs,'” Fauske said.
Aby is putting the school on the map with his impressive court IQ and ability to make teammates better, averaging 19 points, 15 rebounds and six assists.
“Our team is a family and It’s built around ‘Dad,’ who is Carter,” Fauske said. “We go through him but he’s not selfish. He’d rather pass first. We’ve got shooters, but we didn’t hit anything today.”
FAST AND FURIOUS
Snowflake erased a 13-point third quarter deficit and knocked off No. 2-seed Phoenix Cortez 68-65, setting up a semifinal game at 1:30 Friday against Tucson Palo Verde Magnet.
Guard Tanner Crosby scored Snowflake’s final seven points on a 3-pointer with 1:30 left that tied it, a drive in traffic with 1:04 to play that gave Snowflake a one-point lead, and two free throws with seven seconds left that gave his team a three-point lead.
During that last frantic 1:30, Cortez managed just one point, a Hakilimali free throw with 50 seconds left.
“I think anybody on our team can be that guy,” said Crosby, who finished with 13 points. “We trust each other.”
Senior swingman Christian Hakilimali’s 26 points and 21 points weren’t enough for Cortez (22-5), which missed a 3-point attempt from the corner as time expired.
Cortez relies on Hakilimali and guard Trevan Newman for its offense. While Hakilimali was on, Newman was off on Thursday.
Newman had nine points on three of 14 shooting.
“We stopped being aggressive,” said Cortez coach Tarik James, who led his alma mater to its first sectional championship in 26 years. “We were being too protective of the lead, instead of adding to it.
“Some of that was nerves. Tre was off today. He had to find ways to score for himself.”
Crosby had help. Center Travis Flake had 25 points and 10 rebounds.
Tucson Palo Verde handled Chinle’s pressure and quieted its large crowd on its way to a 52-43 victory, as guard Marcos Salcido hit two 3-pointers to answer a Chinle run in the final quarter.
“I’m ready to shoot anywhere whenever,” said Salcido, who had 15 points, making three of five 3-pointers in the game. “I came into this gym confident.”
Chinle had gotten down by eight in the second quarter and rallied to take the lead late in the period.
It got down by eight again in the third quarter before retaking the lead late.
Palo Verde didn’t lose its cool. It kept attacking the glass and took tough shots with Salcido delivering.
Salcido’s 3 gave Palo Verde a 41-36 lead with five minutes to play.
After Chinle got within two, Salcido swished another 3 for a 44-39 lead with 3:19 to play.
“He’s a tough kid,” said first-year coach Jimmie Nelson Jr., who is Palo Verde’s fourth coach in five years.
Thatcher sophomore Dallin Cook made a steal and got the ball off to Mason Mortensen for a buzzer-beating layup to beat defending state champion Valley Christian 61-59 in the final and most thrilling quarterfinal.
“I jumped the screen real hard,” Cook said. “I knew the time and my man was on me and I knew I had to get the ball to someone.”
Mortensen got his feet from under him and laid the ball in just before the buzzer went off.
It capped a wild last four minutes in which Valley Christian (25-8) went on a 9-0 run, sparked by the play of freshman point guard Alijah Gammage, and pulled ahead 59-57 on Gammage’s 3-pointer with 1:45 left.
Jeff Shumway, who had 19 points, sank two free throws with 46 seconds left to tie it.
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Valley Christian called two timeouts to work for the final shot.
But Cook came up with the play of the game.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he said. “I’m only a sophomore and I’m just learning how to get along out there.”
Thatcher (24-7) advances against No. 4 Combs.
Forward Jared Jorgensen had 16 points and 12 rebounds for Thatcher, which outrebounded Valley Christian by 10 and hit 48 percent of its shot.
Valley Christian made only three of eight free throws and lived and died from the 3-point arc, making eight of 26.
Guard Matthew Svorinic had 17 points to lead Valley Christian.
Photos: 2015 high school boys basketball state tournament
Corona del Sol’s Marvin Bagley III wins the tip over Chaparral’s Ryan Bayster at GCU Arena in Phoenix, AZ on February 28, 2015.