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Sixteen points off of turnovers in the fourth quarter put the Sedona Red Rock High School boys basketball team up one, 43-42, with 26 seconds remaining at Paradise Honors High School on Friday, Jan. 20.

But the host Panthers forced a turnover in the backcourt for the two points needed to snatch the victory, 44-43, with nine seconds left.

Sedona Red Rock sophomore guard Chase Saczalski finishes a layup with Paradise Honors High School senior wing Salim Bayo arriving late for a block during the teams’ first matchup on Tuesday, Jan. 3, which the Scorpions won 49-42. Saczalski had a hand in the Scorpions’ final five points in their second matchup on Friday, Jan. 20, but the host Panthers took the 44-43 victory.
Red Rock [14-8, 3-2 2A Central] had been down 36-21 entering the final frame of the 2A Central Section contest.
After winning four of five games to start the new year, the Scorpions have dropped two in a row.

“We didn’t play our greatest [game], but no excuses,” head coach Kirk Westervelt said. “We were down 15 third quarter, we came back, and, you know, that’s all I ask from them.”

Size was an advantage for Paradise Honors, with junior forward Jared Perry and senior wing Salim Bayo both standing at six feet six inches tall. The Panthers also benefited from the return of senior guard Adrian Van Cleaf and junior guard Jose Ramirez, both of whom did not play in the teams’ Jan. 3 matchup.

While the two combined for only eight points, they provided presence on the floor, and forced the Scorpions into foul trouble. Paradise Honors was in the single bonus with 2:11 left in the first quarter, and key players were forced to sit the bench.

“It’s all about ‘team,’ and if they don’t buy into the team we never would’ve came back,” Westervelt said. “‘Cause the bench guys played pretty good.”

Van Cleaf hit both free throws from a one-and-one opportunity to give the Panthers a lead they would not let go of until the end.

Perry and Bayo limited the Scorpions’ second-chance opportunities; the Panthers dominated the rebound battle with 33 to the Scorpions’ 17.

The second quarter was a back-and-forth battle that Red Rock won, 9-8, to trail 19-15 at halftime.

Throughout the game, the Scorpions showed patience on offense, but the Panthers’ size deterred them from creating much dribble penetration and forced them to shoot from distance. They shot 17 for 45 from the field.

“Tonight I guess we just didn’t feel too comfortable going down there with the big guys, and maybe we felt that we were getting in trouble too often down there in the key,” junior guard Michael Ortega, one of the substitutes who saw a big increase in minutes, said. “[It] has a lot to do with confidence, too.”

With team fouls wiped clean at the start of the second half, defense ruled the third quarter until the 2:14 mark, then both teams combined for 18 points.

A triple at the beginning, middle and end of the frame along with four straight free throws, two of which after a technical foul on Scorpion sophomore guard Chase Saczalski, expanded the Panther lead to 36-21 at the quarter’s end.

Red Rock shot three for 11 in the quarter as well.

In the fourth quarter, everything turned. The Scorpions went on an 11-2 scoring run at the start, forced 12 turnovers, and had the Panthers on their heels.

“We always play with urgency at the end, just ‘cause obviously no team wants to lose,” Ortega said. “We all kind of come together, but the key to us being a great team, not just a mediocre team, is being that way from the beginning of the game and playing together.”

But the Panthers’ size inside struck again; Perry earned a three-point play opportunity on a putback, although he missed the free throw. Red Rock continued to ride its wave of momentum to close the gap, but another technical gave Paradise Honors a free point that proved to be costly.

That abrupt moment of negativity did not stop the visitors, as Saczalski nailed a three-pointer to pull the deficit to one at 42-41 before assisting senior forward Dawson Stevenson on the go-ahead shot.

Panther head coach Zach Hettel took a timeout, and Scorpions guards Saczalski and junior Hayden Bruce were in the backcourt to bring the ball up.

Heavy ball pressure forced a rushed pass and Bayo stepped into the passing lane for the steal, dishing it off to junior guard Sohn Sims for the game-winning layup.

Despite the loss, Westervelt credited his team for not rolling over heading into the fourth on the road.

Perry led all scorers with 17 points, and Scorpions junior forward Wyatt Gregson had a team-high 10 points, including eight in the fourth.

The team had been scheduled to play Wickenburg High School on Saturday, Jan. 21, but the game was rescheduled to 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 28.

Red Rock next plays at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 25, in a nonleague game with Phoenix Christian Academy before hosting a rematch with Verde Valley rival Camp Verde High School at 7 p.m., Friday, Jan. 27.

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