Sierra Vista’s “Senior Night” ceremony was a short one, with Payton Dickerson the lone senior on the boys basketball roster.
But the rest of the young Mountain Lions helped make sure Dickerson’s season didn’t end on Thursday night.
Freshman Maka Ellis had 23 points, and Sierra Vista rolled to an 88-41 win over visiting Cheyenne to claim the final playoff berth from the Sunset League. The Mountain Lions (14-12, 7-7 Sunset) play at Desert Pines (19-8, 13-1 Sunrise) at 6 p.m. Tuesday in the Division I-A Southern Region quarterfinals.
“For us to be able to make the playoffs with that young of a group, it’s a feat,” Sierra Vista coach Keith Ulrich said. “Especially after we lost to those guys early in the year, so it’s a good redemption game.”
The Mountain Lions dressed just eight players on Thursday, with six sophomores joining Ellis and Dickerson. And they were facing a Cheyenne team that had defeated them 67-48 on Jan. 21 with the winner taking the final playoff berth. But things were never in really in doubt, as Sierra Vista closed the first quarter on a 10-0 run, and never trailed again.
“That’s been the challenge all year is to get them to focus on the game and getting them to play with purpose at all times,” Ulrich said. “We’ve had our ups and downs all year. That’s been a constant push by the coaching staff to get these guys focused and to be able to play with a purpose, and we finally brought it all together today for a 32-minute effort. So that was really good to see.”
Ellis, who averaged 18.9 points entering Thursday’s game, continued to lead the offensive charge. He had eight points in the second quarter to help the Mountain Lions push their lead to 38-17 at the break.
“He’s had a great year,” Ellis said of the 6-foot-4-inch guard.
But Ellis had plenty of help on Thursday. Jasper Cook had 22 points and 10 rebounds, and Zekarias Kassaye came off the bench to score 12 points, all in the first half.
Dickerson, a transfer from Clark, added 10 points, six rebounds, seven assists and three blocked shots and played a key role on defense.
“Payton has been our best in terms of defensive intensity,” Ulrich said. “Coming from Clark, a program that that’s what they’re known for, he’s really helped bring that to our young kids. His intensity has really rubbed off on the young guys.”
The Mountain Lions dominated Cheyenne (9-14, 6-8) on the glass, outrebounding the Desert Shields, 45-26.
“As a young group, we’ve been a little intimidated of physicality at times throughout the year,” Ulrich said. “And they didn’t play that way at all today. They played with heart and went into the dirty areas to get the balls.”
Ulises Santillan led Cheyenne with 20 points and six rebounds.