Three months after Ironwood beat Sunnyslope on the gridiron with a ball control offense, the Vikings' basketball team turned the tables.
Sunnyslope trailed 38-32 entering the fourth quarter, but used a mix of offensive rebounding, patient offense and sticky defense to hold the Eagles scoreless for more than seven minutes.
By the time junior guard Miles Hancock hit a tree pointer with 47 seconds remaining, Ironwood trailed 47-41. Sunnyslope (13-2) held on to win the quarterfinal of the Judy Dixon Invitational 50-45 Thursday at Greenway High.
"A lot of times tonight, our defense set up our offense," Sunnyslope coach Ray Portela said. "It wasn't pretty. But we got some good rebounds at the end."
In the final two minutes, the Vikings looked to run the clock. Twice Ironwood fouled and a Sunnyslope player missed the front end of the one-and-one.
Seniors Chet Gleason and Quentin Tall grabbed offensive boards.
"They were a physical team and we didn't respond to the challenge," Ironwood coach Todd Hanson said. "We didn't respond with any mental toughness."
Ironwood's ice-cold final quarter followed a third quarter performance that looked to have tipped the balance. After trailing by six at halftime, the Eagles outscored the Vikings 20-8 to grab a 38-32 lead.
Ironwood (12-3) will play Gilbert Mesquite in the consolation round Friday. The good news – all three losses are in tournament games.
So Ironwood will enter the second half of the season at 9-0 and No. 3 in the Division I seedings.
"We're in great shape power ranking wise. I'd rather lose this game than Independence on Jan. 7," Hanson said. "But we'd better be more prepared than we were tonight or we're not going to beat good teams down the stretch."
Senior guard Isaiah Cota poured in 13 of his game-high 19 points in the fourth quarter.
But he, Tall and junior guard Navareio Holmes made a bigger contribution on the defensive end. The guards held senior Kashawn Shelton, the state's leading scorer at 27.4 points per game, to nine points.
Shelton scored 22 in the team's season-opening matchup, a 72-61 Ironwood win at its home Arrowhead Desert Classic.
"He's a very good player. We tried to have a guard with size on him at all times — not just the guy guarding him, but the two guys around him," Portela said.
Sunnyslope, the defending tournament champion, will play Centennial (6-5) in Friday's semifinal, which tips at 6 p.m. Friday at Greenway.
The Coyotes beat Mesquite in Thursday's first quarterfinal. Their post players, senior Shawn Poindexter (19 points) and junior Layth Freikh (14 points) led the way.
"We played probably our most complete game of the year," Centennial coach Michael Gahan said. "We took smart shots and played a steady, controlled game."
The third-year coach is pleased with the program's improvement this year. Playing four games in four days will mimic Centennial's busy January schedule.
And facing a quality opponent like Sunnyslope can only accelerate the Coyotes' learning curve.
"Having to compete every single day against good teams will help. We can learn to make adjustments in the middle of games," Gahan said.