For the first time in four years, the Ironwood Ridge Nighthawks won't be playing in the 5A-II boys basketball championship game.
The 'Hawks, who opened state play Thursday with an easy 71-44 win over Laveen Betty Fairfax, bowed to the seventh-seeded Chaparral Firebirds 63-58 in overtime on Saturday night.
Ironwood Ridge held a 12-point lead in the final period Saturday after Mitch Fischer drove to the basket, drew the foul and sank a free throw. The Nighthawk lead was 51-39 with 4:40 to play.
Chaparral's Nick Tomsick took over, scoring 10 points in a 14-0 Chaparral run. He'd finish with a game-high 24 points.
Tomsick's first three looked innocent enough, but when he made the next one, the game turned. He buried that trey while getting hammered. His subsequent free throw made it 51-46, and the Firebirds were alive. Meanwhile, Ironwood Ridge went four minutes without a basket.
Another trey by Tomsick tied it at 51 with 2:26 left. Alex Pyper got free for a layup with 14 seconds left to give the Firebirds the lead, 53-51. Down to their last chance, Nighthawk guard Lawrence Hampton drove the lane and layed it in just before time expired, forcing overtime.
The extra session was anti-climactic, as the tired-looking Nighthawks had problems on the free-throw line and were outscored 9-5. In the final 12 minutes, they were outscored by the visitors, 29-14.
"I thought we got very tight at the end," said Nighthawks coach Brian Peabody.
"Not everyone stepped up," Hampton said. "I wasn't tired. The free-throw shooting hurt."
The Nighthawks made 55 percent of their charities, while the Chaparrals made 69 percent. "It will bite you sooner or later," Peabody said of the free throw shooting.
Hampton led the Nighthawks with 20 points and was 7-13 from the floor. Matt Walter added 15 on 6-11 shooting from the field.
"We had a championship team," Hampton said. "But we didn't show it today."
"They definitely had a better bench," Peabody said. "That hurt us all year long."
Ironically, the last game the Nighthawks would win would also be the first game in which they were able to play all five of their regulars at the same time. In their win over Fairfax, the players weren't new, but the combination was.
"Today was our first game with all of us," Hampton said.
Hampton, who missed most of the season due to academic ineligibility, was playing in his fourth game since returning. He led all scorers with 23 points, was 8-12 from the floor and 6-9 from the free-throw line.
"Lawrence is like another coach on the floor," coach Brian Peabody said.
Seven-foot center Jan Maehlen has played most of the season for the Nighthawks. The team's defensive stopper went out with injuries and illness just when Hampton returned.
"Jan was released Tuesday (by the doctors)," Peabody said.
Maehlen's presence in the middle helped to anchor the Nighthawks' high-pressure defense. Ironwood Ridge held Fairfax to 30 percent shooting from the field and forced the visitors into 27 turnovers.
The Nighthawks made their first five shots en route to an 11-2 lead. Mitch Fischer scored eight of his 17 in the first, as Ironwood Ridge built a 21-9 lead after one.
"I thought we'd be hard to beat with all five of our starters," Fischer said. "Having Lawrence (Hampton) and Jan (Maehlen) back helps."
"I think we did well for having all five of us together for the first time," Hampton said.
Tyler D'Amore scored 10, while Matt Walter added eight points.
Maehlen was the only Nighthawk starter who didn't score at least eight points. However, his defense was instrumental in holding Fairfax to just 44 points.
Ironwood Ridge is losing Hampton, Maehlen and sixth man Sean Collins. However, Walter, Fischer and Tyler D'Amore will return for the 22-9 Nighthawks.
The Nighthawk girls basketball team lost their playoff opener to South Mountain, 54-48. Three players were named to the 5A-II all-star team. Mya Perrow-Donovan was named to the first team, while Brooke Seavitt and Kelci Wilson each made the second team.