The Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks’ season came to an end in the first round of the state tournament after they fell to 19th seed, Mountain Pointe High School, 53-47. The Nighthawks clinched the 14th seed in the state playoffs after an impressive 17-1 regular season record, but fell short in their post-season play, losing in sectional play to 3rd seed, Red Mountain High School, and again on Thursday night at home to end their hopes of a state championship run.
The Nighthawks didn’t go down without a hard-fought battle.
Freshman Jacoeb Hampton put in the first five points for the Nighthawks to open a 5-1 lead. Mountain Pointe’s height advantage was a factor early on as they pulled down five consecutive offensive rebounds in a single possession.
Mountain Pointe would go on to a 7-0 run after Tre Campbell and Khari Hollway connected from short range.
Ironwood’s Mitch Fischer ended the Mountain Pointe run with a spinning layup to bring the score to 8-7, but Mountain answered with another run, closing the quarter with a three-pointer from Austin Witherill and a driving layup by Jalen Brown to bring the score to 14-8.
“Stop playing afraid,” Ironwood Coach Brian Peabody emphatically told his players on the sidelines during a timeout. “We’ve played 30 games this year, this one is no different.”
Fischer opened the second quarter with a running jumper, and Hampton hit again from behind the arc, closing the deficit to 14-13.
Ironwood began to play improved defense, with Fischer, Andrew Dohm and Tyler Williams each coming up with a steal in the second.
Unfortunately, the Nighthawks struggled to close the gap on offense, and with the second quarter winding down, Mountain Pointe maintained its lead at 23-19.
“At halftime, Coach asked us if we wanted this to be the last game of our season,” said Hampton. “He told us we only had 16 more minutes to turn the game around.”
Ironwood came out in the second half with a renewed intensity, which was matched by their opponent.
Mountain Pointe opened the second half with two free-throws to increase the lead to six. While outsized, Fischer continued to fearlessly drive to the lane to keep the Nighthawks alive. The few times he didn’t finish, he found himself at the free-throw line, where he continued to hit. His seven points in the third quarter helped Ironwood find its first lead since 3-1 in the first quarter.
Mountain Pointe’s offensive rebounding continued to punish the Nighthawks as missed shots were converted into second-chance opportunities. At the end of three, the Nighthawks had closed the deficit by only one point, with the score at 35-32.
They rebounded exceptionally well throughout the game,” said Hampton. “That really ended up hurting us.”
Ironwood needed a big performance in the fourth quarter if they were to advance. Williams gave them hope when he hit back-to-back three pointers to bring the Nighthawks within one point with two minutes left in the game. But Hollway continued to answer for Mountain Pointe, and extended the lead back to seven with a minute remaining.
Ironwood’s Kyle Petty found a lay-up, followed by a three-pointer to bring the Nighthawks’ deficit back to two with 17.9 seconds remaining on the clock.
Mountain Pointe controlled their long inbounds passes well, and found four easy points before the clock ran out to seal the game at 53-47.
“We wish we could have gone further, but we can’t control everything,” said Hampton. “Sometimes you just have to take the good with the bad.”
After the game, Peabody told his team he was proud of what they accomplished.
“I know this is the toughest moment in the season, but you all keep your heads held high,” he said.
The Nighthawks will look to rebuild next year, but will do so without several of this year’s graduating seniors, including Andrew Dohm, Mitch Fischer, Alec Sonderman, Kyle Petty, and Travis Jefferies. The team is looking forward to another great season from Hampton, who has been one of the team’s leading scorers since Christmas time. Peabody said Hampton has been a huge part of why the Nighthawks made it as far as they did this year.
“Next year we’ll look to mature more, work hard during preseason, and have that hard work pay off in the regular season,” said Hampton.
Mountain Pointe’s win will propel them into the second round of the playoffs, where they will face Red Mountain. The state championship game takes place on Feb. 25 at 4 p.m. at the Jobing.com Arena in Glendale.