West Valley Preps
Wednesday’s 5A first round playoff game between No. 9 Avondale Agua Fria and No. 8 Ironwood set up as a showdown between the visiting Owls’ big three and the Eagles’ core four starters.
Then the No. 6 and 7 players in the Ironwood rotation produced their biggest performances in the most crucial moment. Freshman guard Trentez Scales splashed five three-point goals for all 15 of his point.
Meanwhile, junior post Ajang Aguek did a little bit of everything for the Eagles, leading the team with 16 points, adding six rebounds and providing defensive length and agility against Owls star Bryce Fowler.
That bench production, in contrast to an Agua Fria team with only three points from anyone other than its top three players, was the difference in a 66-58 win for Ironwood (17-9). It was the school’s first boys basketball playoff win in 11 years.
“I just don’t think (Trentez) understands how big the moment is,” Ironwood Coach Jordan Augustine said. “Ajang has been doing that for most of the year but he’s really come on the last three or four games.”
Now, a program that finished 9-17 in Augustine’s debut season last year and 6-16 in 2014-15 will get another crack at rival and 5A favorite Apollo (24-3). Saturday’s quarterfinal tips at 6:30 p.m. at Apollo.
Given that the Eagles started their preseason tournament with a 70-43 loss to the Owls, the playoff victory may have come as a surprise — at least outside the Ironwood dressing room.
Coach Augustine said his team gained confidence in a Dec. 6 win at Liberty. And the kids — already at a fever pitch for a rare home playoff game — were eager to show Agua Fria (20-7) how much they improved.
“This was definitely the team our guys wanted to play,” Coach Augustine said.
After falling behind 9-4 early, Ironwood quickly got back in it thanks to two Scales treys. Junior Daniel Foster had his own pair of long-range bombs and the Owls led 18-17 after one.
In the second quarter the Eagles dug out of a five-point hole by starting to relentlessly exploit their inside advantage. Seniors Noah Foskit, Geoff Hibbitt and Aguek took over on the boards and worked some high-low post actions.
Hibbitt’s three-point play led to two Aguek buckets a Foskit layup and another Aguek finish. a 26-21 hole became a 32-26 Ironwood lead and the home team was still up 32-28 at the break.
“We’ve been training countless hours for this and getting ready to compete,” Foskit said.
Sacramento State-bound wing Fowler poured in 12 points in the third quarter to draw Agua Fria even at 46 heading into the court. He finished with 33 points and 11 rebounds.
While his team allowed the first five points of the second half, they quickly regrouped to take a four-point lead.
“I knew I didn’t even have to use the time out,” Coach Augustine said.
Three crucial Ironwood three-pointers gave the Eagles control. Senior Cody Carmichael began the fourth quarter with a corer three.
Junior guard Tyrese Eugene, quiet until then, connected on a pair of threes in the final frame to boost the lead to 55-50. Agua Fria would not get closer.
Scales sealed the victory on his trey with 1:17 left. The lead was now 62-54.
“They (Aguek and Scales) are huge to our success. They bring a ton of energy,” Carmichael said.
Meanwhile, Fowler scored the Owls’ six fourth-quarter points. Foster added 10 points overall and junior guard Duron McNeal has 12.
Fourth-leading Agua Fria scorer Derrick Charles missed this game on crunches. Ironwood built a brief 10-point lead but cruised from there.
There is more work to be done, but Augustine did allow for a quick glimpse back on the rapid progress of the first two years and the program culture that has come into vogue.
“That’s what the most fun part of this is. They’re, ‘Yes, Sir,’ ‘No, Sir’ kids who wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” Coach Augustine said. “Our job is not done and it’s on to the next.”