The seventh-ranked Mesa Jackrabbits basketball team entered the 6A state tournament with a chance to avenge their first loss of the season to the No. 10 Gilbert Tigers.
Despite momentum from a three-game win streak heading into the tournament, the Jackrabbits’ season ended with a 6A Conference first-round 56-39 loss to the Tigers on Tuesday night.
“I think defensively they are a really good team,” Mesa senior guard Mark Hatch said of Gilbert. “They take pride in that and it is their strong suit.”
Both teams started fast in the first quarter, with junior guard Doc Self hitting a 3-pointer to open the game for the Tigers.
Mesa (21-6) answered with a pair of 3-pointers of its own from Hatch and senior guard Xavier Fuller.
Gilbert (16-11) went inside to junior forward Carson Towt early on, with Towt scoring six of the Tigers’ first nine points of the game.
Fuller was a force on defense for Mesa in the first quarter, recording three steals and turning them into points on the other end of the court to give Mesa the 16-14 lead heading into the second quarter.
From there, both teams struggled.
Missed shots, turnovers and fouls plagued each team offensively. The two combined for just eight points in the second quarter, with the Jackrabbits leading 20-18 at the half.
The Jackrabbits’ slump continued in the third quarter.
“We just didn’t make shots,” Fuller said. “The came out, they made shots. Simple as that, we just didn’t execute.
“I think we got the shots we wanted, they just wouldn’t fall in.”
Gilbert outscored Mesa 18-4 in the third quarter, taking the life out of the crowd as Self and other Tigers’ shooters found a rhythm, shutting down the Mesa offense in return.
“Coaches are really tough on us in practice and always say ‘defense, defense, defense is how we are going to get wins,’” Self said. “We just came out and played like any other game and we were able to hold them.”
Despite the Tigers’ having a double-digit lead heading into the fourth quarter, Mesa never quit.
“At the beginning of the season that’s what we were always taught, to play until the final whistle,” Fuller said. “At timeouts, we were told to not give up and keep going. That’s the brotherhood we have.”
Mesa managed to cut Gilbert’s lead to six points with just over three minutes left in the game before the Tigers finally managed to breakthrough Mesa’s full court press.
From there, more fouls committed by Mesa allowed Gilbert to again pull away. This time, it was too much for the Jackrabbits to overcome.
As Gilbert moves on to the second round of the tournament to face No. 2 Pinnacle, Mesa players start to reflect on what was a successful season, regardless of how it ended.
“It was everything, it was just fun.” Hatch said. “Everybody had fun playing and we always battled. That is the most important thing.”
– Zach Alvira is a freelancer for MyNewsMesa.com.
Gilbert 56, Mesa 39
Gilbert 14 4 18 20 – 56
Mesa 16 4 4 15 – 39