Mojave’s boys basketball team didn’t seem to like prosperity Monday.
Though the Rattlers built what seemed like an insurmountable lead in the first half of the Class 3A Southern Region championship game, they needed to make five free throws down the stretch to stave off a frenetic comeback from Chaparral to earn a 64-60 victory at Del Sol.
Both teams advance to the state tournament, which begins Friday at Orleans Arena.
“It’s kind of how our team operates,” Mojave coach Adam Schwartz said. “It’s what we do. We like to play fast. We like to play loose. Because of that, we are capable of going on long runs. We’re capable of giving them up, too.”
The Rattlers did both on Monday.
A 14-0 run that covered most of the first half of the second quarter staked Mojave (22-7) to a 24-10 lead. Even by halftime, the margin still was 37-19.
The Cowboys (17-8) had a tough time making shots, going 9 of 28 from the field in the first half, including 0-for-9 on 3-pointers.
Mojave then began the second half with a 6-2 spurt, increasing the lead to 43-21 on DeSaun Smith’s basket with 5:06 left in the third quarter.
Then everything changed.
Chaparral’s full-court pressure took over, forcing 15 second-half turnovers and fueling a comeback. The Cowboys cut the margin to 49-36 heading into the fourth quarter.
Then Chaparral pulled within 53-46 on Iopu Tauli’ili’s bucket with 4:07 to play.
Mojave lost Saquevian Williams after he took a hard charging foul with 6:37 left. Without their calming point guard, the turnovers kept coming and margin kept shrinking.
“I’ve been with five of these guys for four years,” Schwartz said. “If they can play, they are going to play.”
Chaparral missed its first 14 3-pointers before Cairyn Bray finally made one with 2:10 left, getting the score to 57-51 before Williams returned with 1:30 left.
Chaparral proceeded to make its final four 3-pointers. The last, out of the hands of Elijah Briggs from just over half court with six seconds remaining, got the Cowboys within 63-60.
But there was no miracle in the making.
Isaiah Harper made 1 of 2 free throws, capping his game-high 20-point effort. A.J. Woods had 13 points, and Chris Jackson added 12 points, including a 4-for-6 effort from the line in the final 23 seconds, for Mojave.
“We have a couple of guys who can do it,” Harper said. “Tonight was my night.”
Meshach Hawkins led Chaparral with 13 points. Tauli’ili added 12 points, and Sameal Anderson scored 10.