The Ironwood Ridge girls basketball team pushed perennial power Chandler Seton Catholic to overtime in the title game of the seventh annual Northwest Desert Classic.
But the Sentinels pushed back in the extra period. Senior Heather Heild scored eight of her game-high 18 in overtime to seal a 51-44 win for Seton Catholic on Saturday at Pusch Ridge Christian.
Despite the loss to Division II’s top-ranked team, the Nighthawks (10-4) are off to their best start since 2010-2011, the last time they made the playoffs.
“We’ve really improved a lot since November, and we’re just looking to keep getting better every day until February,” second-year coach Nikki Simpson said.
Last year’s team finished 14-13.
Holding for the last shot in the fourth quarter, I-Ridge had a chance to stun the Sentinels (15-1), before a quick miss and an ill-advised intentional foul 90 feet from the basket in what was a tied game, gave Seton Catholic an eventual 40-37 lead with less than 10 seconds to play.
Not ready to go home, Nighthawks sophomore Lexy Ram knocked down a three in front of the I-Ridge bench at the buzzer to give her team new life at 40-all.
“I was just shocked,” said Ram. “I didn’t think it was going to go in. I was looking to pass down court more but then I just had to throw it up.”
The team’s only underclassman dropped double digits for a second straight game and fifth time this season, finishing with 10 points.
“Lexy has the clutch gene a little bit,” said Simpson. “She had the awareness to know the time and the score and that she needed that three and she needed to knock that down. She really developed into an offensive threat this tournament.”
Senior captain Casey Wortley chipped in eight, while five other players scored four or more, including junior forward Lanea Tuiasosopo, who along with Ram was named to the all-tournament team.
“There was a lot of great competition here,” said Tuiasosopo. “Just being recognized as one of those girls is such an honor.”
Still finding her footing after volleyball season, Tuiasosopo provides more than just a low post presence.
“She plays hard all the time,” said Simpson. “She brings an intensity and fire to the team that we need. I love it.”
Trying to get back to the playoffs for the first time in three years, the Nighthawks are headed in the right direction after beating Scottsdale Notre Dame Prep and Tucson, two of the top teams in D-II, along with D-I Mesa Desert Ridge just to make the final.
Ram had a team-high 13 in the 47-46 comeback win over Tucson on Friday.
“This is great for us,” said Simpson. “We’ve been challenged and tested early, and we’ve really responded well to those challenges.”