Midnight was going to strike for one of the Cinderellas in the Class 5A girls quarterfinals on Thursday.
After a key stretch of the third quarter, the clock started to run out on Rincon/University — the No. 13 seed — against No. 12 Queen Creek Casteel.
“I definitely thought we could have taken this team, we were with them the whole entire night,” said Rincon leading scorer Loraya Rocha. “We let a few bad turn of events affect us too much and we couldn’t come back from it from a mental standpoint.”
Rocha led Rincon with 13 points and five rebounds and the Rangers (19-10) were within one halfway through the third quarter. But after Casteel’s 8-0 run, Rincon/University could not rally, falling 52-42.
“We made some mistakes at crucial times,” said Rincon coach Darryl Carlson. “That really hurt us. We turned the ball over a couple of times when we really shouldn’t have. We forced things that weren’t there. That’s the way it goes.”
Casteel (18-11) advances to Monday’s semifinals to face No. 1 Goodyear Millennium.
Rincon had some trouble getting started, with early turnovers and failing to find some offensive rhythm. The Rangers’ 2-3 zone forced Casteel to shoot from the outside, but the Colts made four 3-pointers in the second quarter alone. Still, Rocha hit a 3 and hit a floater to keep Rincon within 27-25 at the half.
Rocha hit one of two free throws after a steal and getting fouled on the subsequent breakaway to get Rincon within 31-30 with 4:13 left in the third. They would get no closer.
Casteel sophomore Daeja Johnson hit two 3-pointers and a layup off of one of Rincon’s 19 turnovers — all in a 46-second span and the Rangers could not rally in the final quarter.
“We did some good things, but it’s just about moving the ball and not dribbling so much and trying to create some things,” said Carlson. “I’m proud of my girls. They did a good job.”
The lone senior among the five starters — who play the entire game — Cienna Crawford added 10 points and 10 rebounds for Rincon while sophomore guard Kendall Jeong added eight points.
Rincon had won five straight, including a play-in game and then an upset victory Tuesday at Scottsdale Desert Mountain 51-44 in the round of 16. It was already the furthest Rincon had been in three seasons after being eliminated in the play-in round for two years in a row.
The Rangers came into the night having been 12-3 since Christmas.
“We lost some games early, because we had injuries,” Carlson said. “I told my girls, we’re in the top five. But you have to prove you are in the top five. And tonight was an example of it.”
The Colts had been in 3A the last two seasons but moved up to 5A this year, the school’s first with seniors on campus.