GILBERT, Ariz.—With three days in the books, the 21st annual Nike Tournament of Champions is primed for another epic championship day to crown winners in five different brackets of play. When the action began Tuesday 81 teams were hoping to leave their mark on the biggest stage on the scholastic landscape. We’ve been on hand from the opening tip and will be in the gym again Friday through the final buzzer. To see our Blue Star Media coverage for days one and two, follow the links below.
Thursdays action had a high standard to live up to following some classic and ultra-competitive TOC semifinals. When you have Archbishop Mitty and St. John’s College battle to the wire in an eight point game or Riverdale (Tenn.) taking down highly regarded Centennial by 11 it’s easy to appreciate the line-up in this year’s top tier Smith Division. For good measure host and defending Arizona state champs Mesquite pushed traditional national power St. Mary’s to the brink behind 13 three-pointers before falling in the end.
To see the Smith bracket as well as the other divisions, follow the link below to the National Basketball website and the Nike TOC page.
On tap Friday will be five title games with some interesting match-ups for all the marbles. In the Joe Smith Division, northern California rivals Archbishop Mitty and St. Mary’s of Stockton will battle it out for the top prize. The John Anderson Division will feature Roland Park out of Maryland facing Omaha Westside from Nebraska. The Mike Desper bracket is down to impressive local standouts from Gilbert High School taking on Central California powerhouse, Clovis West. In the Derril Kipp Division Granada Hills Charter will face Horizon out of Colorado. Last but certainly not least, the Dan Wiley final will pit Canyon against Corona Centennial for 2017 bragging rights.
While we obviously can’t see all the action, we did get to take in both sets of semifinal games in the Anderson and Smith Divisions Thursday.
In the first Anderson contest, Roland Park got by an overachieving and undermanned New Hope Academy team that has yet to play with a full roster this season. Roland Park stretched the lead time and again only to see New Hope battle back within reach. The Reds enjoyed double digit leads throughout but had to settle for a nine point margin when the final horn sounded. The loss for New Hope was magnified by a late game knee injury suffered by impressive sophomore Aicha Coulibaly. The extent of the injury won’t be known until further examination. High flying sophomore Mir McLean led Roland Park with 25 while junior forward Maria Ferariu chipped in 14 more. Despite not finishing the game, Coulibaly paced New Hope with 23.
ROLAND PARK 60 – NEW HOPE 51
In the second Anderson semi St. Francis came out of the gate looking to punch their championship game ticket by way of an early knockout punch. After eight minutes, they held a commanding 20 – 4 lead and didn’t appear to have any obstacles in their path. Well the Warriors of Omaha Westside had another thought. A 19 – 5 quarter of their own narrowed the gap to just two at the half and set the table for second half fight to the finish. Westside picked up in the third where they left off racing to a six point lead and forcing the Terriers to call timeout to stop the bleeding. Unfortunately, momentum is an evil opponent and the folks from New York couldn’t regain the lead and fell in the end by a 12 point margin, a 28 point turnaround from the first period. Senior guard Quinn Weidemann led the way in the win 25 including three long balls. Eye catching sophomore forward Jasmin McGinnis-Taylor added 12 more for the Warriors. In the loss, Syracuse signee Emily Engstler posted 17 as the only St. Francis player to hit double digits.
OMAHA WESTSIDE 56 – ST. FRANCIS 44
The Riverdale (Tenn.) – Archbishop Mitty promised to be a competitive game and it didn’t disappoint from start to finish. Mitty jumped out quickly capitalizing on the Warriors ice cold start (first field goal didn’t come until the second period) by posting an 11 – 2 edge after one. One they got the lid off, Riverdale got back into the mix closing the gap to 26 – 18 at the break. Mitty standout Haley Jones went to bench early in the third which may not have broken her heart as thing got extremely physical between the two championship hopefuls. While Riverdale kept chipping away the Monarchs ultimately got the lead to 46 – 33 entering the final quarter. However, the Warriors weren’t going away and had the margin at seven at the 4:00 mark and six with 1:38 remaining. The final was still in single digits at nine but Mitty knew they had worked to earn their way into the Smith final. Penn State bound Karisma Ortiz led four with double figures posting 18 in the win. Anna McNicholas contributed 15, Jones added 12 while Krissy Miyahara finished with 10. Riverdale had three in double figures. Vanderbilt signee Brinae Alexander had 13 while Alasia Hayes put up 11 and Alexis Whittington added 10 more.
ARCHBISHOP MITTY 64 – RIVERDALE (TENN.) 50
Officials needed to reach in their football storage and pull out the flags for the St. Mary’s – Riverdale Baptist Smith bracket semifinal. Things were physical from start to finish and neither team was backing down with the chance to advance to Friday’s championship game on the line. Turnovers were the order of the day off the tip with sloppy play on both sides as Riverdale Baptist jumped out 8 – 2 early and still held a 15 – 11 edge at the end of one. Baylor signee Aquira DeCosta got busy in the second as St. Mary’s took and extended the lead. The Crusaders didn’t let up and closed the gap back to just one at the half. The third belonged to the Rams as they forced turnovers and converted time and again to add to the lead and take a 53 – 37 advantage into the fourth. Unfortunately, things got even more physical and players had to be separated at one point to maintain the peace. A 16-all final period kept Riverdale Baptist at bay as St. Mary’s moves into the Smith final to face fellow northern California representative, Archbishop Mitty. DeCosta erupted for 29, 15 of which came in the first half. Future Florida Gator Ariel Johnson had 14 while Nicole Young added 12 and Neena Young chipped in 10 of her own. The Crusaders were paced by sophomore Liz Martino’s 14 and got 12 more from Maryland bound senior post Shakira Austin.