The 5A Championship Game

Here's some goodies you can't get in the newspapers:

$ Mesa coach Shawn Lynch made defense a priority for his team last summer. He personally told me of his intentions then, and throughout this season newspaper quotes from the coach and Mesa players reiterated this stance.

Because of this dedication to defense, the Jackrabbits are the 5A state champions.

It was clearly apparent to me by halftime of the title game Mesa would win.  They had an answer for every Desert Vista scoring threat while at the same time showed a offensive balance the Thunder couldn't account for.

During a stretch of the 2nd period Mesa went on a run where five players scored easy buckets.  Travis LeBaron, Akeem Jackson, LeBaron again, Matt Komenda, Mike Crowell, Graham Hatch, and Crowell again, scored in rat-a-tat-tat fashion.

Desert Vista was confounded in trying to keep track of where the points were coming from. Jackson dunked, LeBaron was shooting 3's, and the other ‘Wabbits were scoring from spots in between.  All the Thunder could do was try to keep pace by scoring themselves.

But Mesa's defense caused too many turnovers and missed shots by D. Vista and the ‘Rabbits led 30-24 at the half.  The game was essentially over.

You could sense that Mesa could quell any potential Thunder uprising while also being able to score in so many different ways that the outcome was just a formality.

Thankfully, Desert Vista went on a run of their own in the 4th period to give us fans our money's worth.  ‘Vista closed to within 1 point to tease us into thinking about the impossible.  The Thunder team had too much character to not make things interesting but reality soon resurfaced.

Mesa proved what we've known since Christmas.  The Jackrabbits are the best basketball team in the state………at any level!

$ Shawn Lynch is now the toast of the town.  He'll be named Coach Of The Year and deservedly so.

But I remember a Mesa game two years ago where I was sitting in a cluster of parents and fans behind the Jackrabbit bench when things weren't going so well.  Most of those people wanted to lynch Lynch right then and there.  They were spewing profanities and other uncomplimentary suggestions toward the coach.  I actually felt embarrassed for him and that's why I so clearly remember that moment.

But we live in a fickle society and I'll betcha those very same detractors were in attendance last night all dressed in their purple and gold trying their best to pat Lynch on the back after the final buzzer.  It's funny how the worm turns.

$ Desert Vista played a good game.  They just couldn't overcome the match ups Mesa presented.

I mean, how was Dutch Perryman going to get in a groove with Lee Cummard guarding him?

How were Xavier Kilby and Travis Gabbidon going to get loose with "Bulldog" Komenda and Crowell hanging around in the paint?

Or did you think Chris Gray would find his stroke with lightning quick Jackson on the perimeter?

Not a chance.

Congrats to the Thunder on an outstanding playoff run.  You guys made the season exciting.

$ Back to Mesa's defense again.  Until last Saturday's game against Deer Valley, the ‘Rabbits hadn't used the 1-3-1 zone at all.  They only practiced it every couple weeks and only very briefly.  Mesa primarily employed a man-to-man D throughout the season.

But the Jackrabbits surprised Deer Valley with the 1-3-1 and frustrated big man Lawrence Hill.  This zone was a contributing factor in beating the Skyhawks.

Mesa used it again for long stretches against Desert Vista.  At one point in the 4th period Mesa was alternating between a man D and the 1-3-1 on every possession. The Thunder players were seriously confused.

$ America West Arena's lower bowl was about 83% full for the title game.  Mesa had far more fans and enthusiasm than Desert Vista.  The Jackrabbit legion made you want to cover your ears at times.  They were that loud.

$ This is the end of the line for Kilby and Gabbidon.  I don't think any other two teammates in state history have had the same kind of experience as K & G.  The Thunder senior, big men have been to the Final Four three years in a row and have come up empty every time.

In '02 they lost to Highland in the semis, in '03 to Gilbert in the finals, and to Mesa in the '04 finals.

If I were Kilby or Gabbidon I don't know how I'd feel about my high school career.  Empty, fulfilled, cheated, numb,…………………..?

It's been fun watching these two young men grow up and their presence will be remembered for years to come.

$ The refs did a good job.  I didn't even notice their presence.

$ Both clubs will be strong again next year.  Mesa returns LeBaron, Hatch, and Komenda giving the ‘Rabbits a threat from outside and in.  Same with Desert Vista as big man Johnny Pinto, Perryman, and injured point guard Julian Irving all are back.  Inside out balance means continued success.

$ Akeem Jackson, and the use of his talents by Coach Lynch, was a major key to Mesa's victory.  Lynch put Jackson's quickness and tenacity to work for unusually lengthy stretches.  Jackson athleticism allowed him to either rebound or close quickly to a shooter on the perimeter.

Jackson was the reason Desert Vista couldn't get the outside game going.  And his 2nd period dunk was the evening's most electric moment and ignited the Mesa offensive run where they psychologically took control of the game.

If we had an award in this state for Sixth Man of the Year, Jackson would probably be the recipient.

Desert Vista     14   10     5   17   ---  46
Mesa               15   15   13   11   ---  54

DESERT VISTA- Kilby 15, Gray 12, Gabbidon 9, Perryman 6, Pinto 4
MESA- Cummard 16, LeBaron 9, Komenda 9, Crowell 8, Hatch 6, Jackson 4, Garner 2

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