Last spring, Zach Malis played a big role in Desert Christian winning its first baseball state championship.
Less than a year later, Malis has helped put the Eagles in a position to win a boys basketball title as well.
“There’s the same sort of chemistry as we had in baseball, and I think that’s key,” said Malis, a junior who averages a team-high 13.7 points a game. “Trusting each other and being able to work together as a team. That’s what it takes to get to the end.”
Riding a 13-game winning streak and benefiting from a first-round bye, Desert Christian is hoping to purge the memory of last year’s quarterfinals exit and reach the state finals for the first time since 2007.
The fourth-ranked Eagles (22-7), who won the 2A title in 2001, are the top Southern Arizona team in the Division IV state tournament that begins today. They will play either No. 13 Tombstone or No. 20 Gilbert Classical on Saturday at Yavapai Community College at 1:30 p.m.
Malis, who batted .515 and struck out 58 batters in 48 innings last spring, also averages 6.3 rebounds and 2.7 steals per game on the hardcourt. Senior forwards Blake Trout and Jake Furrier also average more than 7 points and 5 boards per contest.
Things haven’t come easy this season for Desert Christian, which had to replace five seniors heading into the campaign.
“When we first started, I don’t think many people thought we would be where we’re at,” Eagles coach Iram Alday said. “We had talent, but even we didn’t know how good we were going to be.”
Desert Christian opened the season by winning the Boyd Baker Small School Invitational, but the team’s fortunes quickly took a turn for the worse as it lost five of its next six games.
One simple change — a switch from man-to-man to a zone defense — turned things around. By putting its lengthy frontcourt to better use with the help of a zone while playing over winter break, Desert Christian was able to hang close in losses to Sabino and Cholla, a pair of Division II playoff teams.
Since losing to Cholla on Dec. 28, the Eagles have lost just once in their last 16 games. That was to Phoenix Arizona Lutheran, the No. 2 seed in the Division IV tournament.
“We’ve figured out the best system that works for us,” Alday said.