The Sedona Red Rock High School boy’s basketball team showed streaks of promise and areas for improvement at its own tournament, the Sixth annual Red Rock Hoops Classic.
The Scorpions opened group play Thursday, Dec. 1, with two losses, the first to Blue Ridge by a score of 79-44 and the second to Northland Prep, a fellow Division 2A rival, 68-59.
“That is why we got in a tournament like this, to see where we are at,” Scorpions head coach Kirk Westervelt said. “We do not even know what our starting lineup is yet. We have about seven guys that we can plug in. It is a work in progress, but come conference play we will be tough, we will be one of the teams to beat if not the team to beat.”
Following the Thursday losses, the Scorpions rebounded with a 58-40 win over Coconino High School in their Friday early game. The home team controlled the contest from start to finish, getting out to a 16-10 lead after the first quarter and never relinquishing the lead.
However the team struggled to finish at the rim, allowing the Panthers to stay close at halftime, 26-21.
“I am trying to change the identity of the team,” Westervelt said. “We have to finish and that has been our weakness.”
Scorpions junior Michael Ortega sank a three-pointer to open second half scoring, and the Scorpions continued to force Coconino to score from the outside, which they struggled to do.
Scorpions senior Randy Rodriguez backed up sophomore Chase Sacalski’s three-pointer with two buckets of his own to open a 10-point advantage at 37-27. Soon after he threaded a pass through in transition to junior Hayden Bruce to take a 42-31 lead after three quarters.
Entering the final frame the Scorpions left the huddle saying “close,” which they would do with a 12-5 run to bring them to a 54-36 advantage with just over three minutes remaining. A continued effort on defense combined with improved offensive efficiency were the keys to finishing the 58-40 win over the Division 4A team.
“I would rather play tough ‘up’ competition so when our conference comes we are battle-tested,” Westervelt said.
In the afternoon matchup with Division 4A Cactus, the Scorpions started off slow, going down 6-0 at the beginning of the first quarter to reach a 20-11 deficit after eight minutes.
The second quarter saw Red Rock explode for 25 points, led by senior Walker Cox’ 13 points, including three baskets from beyond the arc. Defensively the Scorpions, just as in the first frame, gave up 20 points but saw themselves only down by four at the break.
The Cobras finished the game off in the third quarter, maintaining their physicality at both ends of the floor, which eventually wore down the home team. Cactus senior Matt Eberhardt was a force on the glass at both ends, laying in identical baseline alley-oop inbounds plays over the Scorpion defense in the third.
“When you get some momentum in the first half, it’s hard to maintain it unless you’re in shape and ready to go in the second half,” Ortega said. “It all starts in practice. We have to maybe get a little more conditioning in; maybe do some more weight work. It is just going to be hard work to get better throughout the season.”
Red Rock found itself down 59-45 after the third quarter, and eight more points by junior Wyatt Gregson on top his eight in the third helped pave the way to the 79-59 final.
“Our intensity in that game was much better than any other game in the tournament,” Ortega said. “I think the whole team feels like if we would’ve played with that intensity and that passion for these past couple games we would be 3-1. Not to take anything away from Cactus, because they’re a really good team.”
Intensity was one thing that Red Rock lacked in the first half of its final game of the tournament against Pinon. A closely contested game, the Eagles took the lead at 4-3 early on and led almost the entire way behind sharp-shooting from the outside.
They hit 11 shots from beyond the arc, including six in the second quarter that gave them a 43-34 lead at the break.
“We weren’t really playing as aggressive as we usually do,” Sacalski said. “But they were knocking down jump shots left and right and that’s what helped them get a quick lead.”
Despite numerous turnovers and poor finishing, the Scorpions kept themselves in it with free throws and some clutch three-point shots of their own.
The third quarter saw a completely different Red Rock team. Playing in-your-face, physical basketball put the Eagles back on their heels.
A steal for a lay up by Ortega sandwiched by two three-pointers in the first three possessions raised the crowd’s energy and gave the Scorpions the spark they needed to get back into the game.
After an Eagles timeout, Ortega struck again with another shot from distance followed up by a jumper from Gregson that gave the Scorpions a 47-43 lead. But Pinon answered with six straight points that would settle Red Rock’s momentum, eventually leading to a back-and-forth battle that ended with a 61-58 advantage for the visitors.
With four minutes left in the final frame, Rodriguez finished off a baseline drive to give the Scorpions their first lead of the quarter. However the Eagles’ Toby Bitsui hit from distance, the second of two in the quarter, coming out of a timeout.
Pinon’s Enrique Segay hit back-to-back shots to finish off the 6-0 run that would prove to be too much for Red Rock to overcome, falling 77-72.
“The effort was there, we can correct the other stuff,” Westervelt said. “At least they came out in the second half an played pretty tough. We have to generate probably 70 percent of our offense off turnovers; we have to force turnovers and hopefully make the layins that we haven’t been.”
Red Rock next takes the court to face off with Anthem Prep at 7 p.m. , Monday, Dec. 12,
at Sedona Red Rock High School.