GLENDALE - Salpointe Catholic senior captains Daniel Arzouman and Logan Tober were so excited after Thursday's Division II state semifinal win, they ran into the locker room screaming in celebration - only to find out it was the wrong one.
While the two may have been surprised over the mix-up at Jobing.com Arena, they're not surprised the Lancers beat Avondale Agua Fria 53-45 and are headed to the state championship game.
"The whole year I felt like we were the best team in the state," Tober said. "I've almost felt like we've underachieved at some times in the season, but this is where we should have been the whole season."
To advance, No. 6-seeded Salpointe had to hold off a second-half rally by No. 18 Agua Fria - a Division II Cinderella that had already upset No. 2 Catalina Foothills and No. 7 Nogales.
"They knocked out two Southern Arizona powers on the way" second-year coach Brian Holstrom said. "We weren't going to take them lightly."
The Lancers (23-10) will face No. 4 Phoenix Paradise Valley in the Division II state final at noon Saturday at Jobing.com Arena. Paradise Valley beat No. 1 Phoenix Sunnyslope 63-48 on Thursday.
It's Salpointe's first trip to the state championship since 1999. The Lancers have never won a state title in basketball, but that could change Saturday the way they're playing.
"Tournament basketball is just playing your best ball and doing things consistently," Holstrom said. "Our team believes in defense, believes in rebounding, and they believe they have a great chance to win if they get stops."
The Lancers led 18-7 at the end of the first quarter, but the Owls never let up and eventually tied the game at 33 late in the third quarter.
Salpointe junior Hunter Lowry hit a go-ahead basket in the final seconds of the period, and the Lancers went on to outscore Agua Fria 18-12 in the final quarter.
Junior Cameron Denson, who put the Lancers up 9-2 early with a three-pointer, finished with a team-high 22 points while sophomore Jaylyn Juan added 10.
"We're family," said Denson, a UA football commit. "We stick together through the thick and thin. We're here to win, and we'll do whatever we have to do to win."
Arzouman said January was a big month for Salpointe. Since the start of the year, the Lancers have gone 13-3; all three losses came against Catalina Foothills, their main in-town rival.
"We really started to grow as a team and practice harder," Arzouman said. "Coach had always been leaning on us to practice hard and play hard, and once everybody followed that, it paid off."
• Who: No. 6 Salpointe Catholic vs. No. 4 Phoenix Paradise Valley
• What: Division II championship
• When: Noon Saturday
• Where: Glendale's Jobing.com Arena