Coconino girls close door on Cactus late

Lance Hartzler
Special to West Valley Preps

FLAGSTAFF – The Cactus Cobras’ bid for a second straight upset hit the wall in the final eight minutes.

Friday’s 4A girls basketball quarterfinal matchup between the No. 11 seed Cactus  and the No. 3 Coconino Panthers ended with a 52-41 loss for the visitors from the Valley.

The game was tight the whole way, with the score being within single digits until the fourth quarter. Once the final quarter hit, Coconino’s senior guard JJ Nakai turned it on, scoring eight of her game-high 19 in the quarter.

“We knew they were a really good team with a really good player and they came out and they really executed what we wanted. It just wasn’t enough to pull out the win,” said Cactus head coach Justin Shaver.

Following a first round upset over No. 6 Buckeye, Cactus (20-9) struggled to find any rhythm on offense due in part to the defense of Coconino (26-4).

Cactus freshman Myla Lee tries to get a shot up against Coconino in Friday’s playoff game. (Courtesy Cactus Girls Basketball)

“I think we just struggled to shoot the ball,” Coach Shaver said.

Shaver added, “I don’t know if it was nerves, or legs with being up in the elevation and a lot of it was that [Coconino] played aggressive defense and didn’t let us get open shots.”

Coconino head coach Martin Reyes was happy about his team’s effort defensively, something he is emphasizing throughout the program.

“I’m trying to make that a real hallmark of the program, at every level we want the girls to guard,” said Coach Reyes.

Nakai’s late surge fueled the Panthers to close out the resilient Cobras.

Cactus was led by freshman forward Olivia Lee with eight points and sophomore guard Jahleza Clark with six points.

“We fought hard. The team did everything we asked them to do and everything we talked about,” Shaver said.

Even with the tough loss, Shaver had only great things to say about his team. He raved over the effort Cactus showed during the last few games, clearly showing pride in his group of girls.

The program took a major step forward in Shaver’s second season, reaching the final eight.

“I can’t say enough about we were able to do at the end of the year,” Shaver said on his team winning eight of their final ten games. “We had a great season and really came on strong at the end. We fought hard in the playoffs and peaked at the right time.”

“A lot of our team, especially our seniors Jasmine and Kristine took it to a whole new level as far as intensity these last few games. It was a fun run,” Shaver said.

Editor’s Note: Lance Hartzler is a junior journalism major at NAU

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