GLENDALE — Even before the season started, Cienega’s girls basketball team believed it was one of the top contenders for a state championship and talked about being one of the last two teams standing.
The Bobcats never backed down from that, especially not Thursday afternoon against the defending state champions.
Cienega scored 10 straight points midway through the second half and held on for a 57-49 win over No. 10 Scottsdale Saguaro to advance to its first-ever state championship game. It will now face top-seeded Chandler Seton Catholic on Saturday at 9 a.m. in the Division II state final at Jobing.com Arena.
“We certainly hoped for it, and we always talked about it, even before the season and during the summer, that we were going to work hard and we finally got here,” senior Gabby Banales said. “It’s crazy, it’s becoming real, and we’re going to be playing on Saturday. We’re just so happy that we’ve gotten this far.”
Junior Treyanna Clay scored a game-high 21 points and pulled in 15 rebounds to get her second straight double-double and help Cienega win its 10th straight game and improve to 26-1. Second-year coach Paul Reed considered Clay’s performance the best of the season given the level of competition.
“She played huge for us,” Reed said. “Playing the defending state champs and a team that’s well-coached and is very skilled, she took care of business tonight.”
Cienega was up 30-20 less than 60 seconds into the second half, but a full-court press helped the Sabercats get on an 11-0 run to get back in the game. After falling behind with 2:50 left in the third quarter, junior Kelaiah Dillard drove to the basket to put the Bobcats up 32-31.
Saguaro’s Jelani Huma answered with a score to put the Sabercats back up. But, 90 seconds later, Clay converted a three-point play to put Cienega ahead for good.
“We all stepped up this game, I’m really proud of the team,” Clay said. “I think what helped us win the game was our defense. We always knew who the shooter was, and we were talking. We just had really good defense.”
Banales, who scored 11 points, opened the fourth quarter with another three-point play, and Clay followed that with consecutive put-backs and hit a free throw to make it 43-33 with 4:13 left. After Saguaro had gone more than six minutes without a basket, senior Casey Rarrick scored on a drive with 3:56 left to trim Cienega’s lead to eight. But junior Ariana Roche responded with her third three-pointer of the game to put the Bobcats up by 11.
Saguaro matched that shot with another three, but Dillard took just 10 seconds to answer with another triple with 3:12 left, and Cienega led by at least six the rest of the game.
“No one at Cienega for girls basketball, or even boys basketball, has made it this far so we’re making history just by going,” Banales said. “But, we want to come home with the championship.”