As the playoffs get underway for high school hoops in Arizona, every team has their bumps and bruises. But two high seeded teams in particular have extremely valuable players out for the rest of the season causing their teams to possibly take earlier exits than most would expect.
Quite possibly the hottest team in Division I boys is Pinnacle after winning their last 13 games of the season which included seven wins of 20 points or more, two wins over Desert Mountain, a win over Mesa and a sectional title.
But before the start of the playoffs a huge blow to the team occurred as senior guard and Rice University commit Drew Bender suffered an ankle sprain and added that “there is definitely something else wrong with it.”
The injury will sideline Bender for the entire tournament and will miss four to six weeks total. He has been battling an ankle injury back from when the team traveled to a tournament in Las Vegas last September. He sat out of practices ever since but had not missed a game. Bender however maintains a very positive outlook.
“It’s all good,” he mentioned to me. “Sometimes that’s just how it goes.”
For Pinnacle hoops thats just how it continues to go. Since first becoming a school in 2000, the Pioneers have had one of the top basketball programs in the state but have never won a state title. A very similar situation happened to Pinnacle back in 2005 with what was a great senior class led by Ray Murdock and Jesus Mora. Trust me they were doing big things. I would know, I was one of those seniors on that team.
Murdock missed some games at the end of the season and came back, maybe to quickly, for the first game of the playoffs after a first round bye. Pinnacle went on to be upset at home by Millennium.
You can’t count Pinnacle out yet as they still have one of the state’s top players in junior Dorian Pickens and one of the rising stars in that 2014 class, point guard Trey Ingram. But it will be a much more difficult road for the Pioneers without their senior leader.
The three-time defending state champion Seton Catholic Lady Sentinels had a big blow to their quest for a fourth straight as a serious knee injury has sidelined senior point guard Anne Marie Holter.
Holter had to spend her Valentines Day undergoing surgery on that knee and will also miss the remainder of the season. Having watched Holter know the last two seasons, I think she is one of the top ball-handlers in the state and is really what makes the Lady Sentinels go offensively.
Like Pinnacle now having to rely even more on junior Pickens, Seton Catholic has to rely even more on their junior star Julia Barcello. She is already the leading scorer on the team and one of the top girls in the state. Now she may need to take on extra responsibility handling the basketball with the loss of Holter. Plus you know the great Coach Karen Self will have the team ready to go.
Both the Pinnacle boys and the Seton Catholic girls have first round byes and will see their first action of the state tournament on Saturday.