The Ironwood boys’ basketball team earned their first-ever shot at a 5A state title with a 60-50 win over Sunnyslope in the semifinals on Thursday night.
Fans showed up hours before the doors even opened to the gym. At 6 p.m., an hour before tip-off, the stands were packed and the building was nearly at capacity. It was about as ruckus as a high school basketball atmosphere could get.
“I do think this is the most fun I’ve ever had winning a game,” Coach Jordan Augustine said.
The contest was back-and-forth for the first half. Ironwood tried to play its typical brand of high-paced offense, attacking the paint with their talented guards in transition. Senior Trent Hudgens, a transfer who came to Ironwood for moments like this, had 12 points in the first half.
“Sunnyslope is a good team so I knew we had to come in locked in and focused, so that was just it,” Hudgens said.
Meanwhile, the Vikings had a major size advantage in the post, and attempted to slow the game down and feed their big forwards for buckets in the paint. It worked for the most part, as Sunnyslope took a three-point lead into halftime.
The Eagles tightened up defensively in the second half, allowing just eight points in the third quarter. While undersized compared to the Vikings’ formidable forwards, the Eagles crowded the lane and disrupted easy entry passes to the bigs.
“It was just about packing the paint to not let their bigs get easy lay ups. We had to get up on their guards when they were going to shoot, too, but trying to stop them from getting to us down there was the focus,” Hudgens said.
Meanwhile, the Eagles scored at a consistent pace, and hit free throws down the stretch to secure the victory. Security guards had to hold the supporter’s sections back from rushing the floor in celebration.
Augustine thanked the Ironwood community for showing up to support, and the Eagles believe their cheers, in-part, propelled their effort.
“There’s a whole community behind us that’s itching for us to make it this far. This is for them, for sure,” said senior Dominic Gonzalez.
The win gives Ironwood both a shot at the 5A title, but also redemption for last year’s playoff defeat. It will play Millennium – who beat the Eagles by one point in last year’s quarterfinal – Monday at ASU’s Desert Financial Arena.
Ironwood will undoubtedly practice hard this weekend, but at least for a night, Gonzalez said they are going to celebrate a historic accomplishment.
“We’ll probably enjoy it for the night but then we’ve got to get back in here because Millennium is a great team,” he said.