(Big) Dance Partners: Coolidge holds off Benjamin Franklin’s Comeback bid to win 3A Central Tourney

1 week ago Andrew Luberda 0

It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

In Friday’s 3A Central Region Tournament Championship Game, Coolidge and Benjamin Franklin combined for 27 first-half points before scoring 75 in the second half as the Bears held off the Chargers’ comeback to win, 53 – 49.

The win was the Bears’ third-straight over the Chargers this season, and the most difficult.

“It’s tough to beat the same team three times in-a-row,” Coolidge first-year head coach Bryan Piles said after the game. “Especially in region play, where there is a lot of familiarity. It was a battle and we knew it was going to be a dog fight. I tip my hat to (Benjamin Franklin); they made us work for (the tournament championship).”

Nick Harrison (24). (Andrew Luberda)

Coolidge sophomore Nick Harrison scored a team-high 26 points, hitting 8-of-15 shots from 3-point range. His three in the closing seconds of the first half gave his team its first lead of the game, 15-12.

After ending the first half on a 7 – 0 run, the Bears made it 13 unanswered points to start the third quarter, as Harrison was just getting warmed up. He drained four-straight 3-pointers – five-straight including his three before halftime – that helped the Bears extend their lead to 29-17.

“We needed to pick up our offense,” answered Harrison when asked what Piles said to the team at halftime that led to the scoring outburst in the second half. “Our defense was doing well, but our shots weren’t going down. We shot too many three-pointers (in the first half).”

Cam Bender (24). (Andrew Luberda)

The Chargers have their own sharp-shooter in senior Cam Bender, who scored a game-high 27 points. The 6-foot-2 shooting guard drained five 3-pointers in the second half, including three in the third quarter. His back-to-back threes cut the Bears lead in half with just under two mins left in the quarter.

Benjamin Franklin tied the game twice in the fourth quarter – the last at 43 apiece – but could never gain the lead. Coolidge built a five-point lead with 2:28 left but it was nearly erased on Bender’s last three of the game that pulled the Chargers within 50 – 49. Coolidge senior Seth De La Rosa hit a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left. Following a timeout, the Chargers’ attempt at a game-tying three was off the mark, and the Bears celebrated their championship.

“From here on out, no one can take this 3A Central Region Tournament Championship away from these guys,” Piles said. “We accomplished this, so let’s continue to build the legacy for this season.”

The upcoming state tourney provides the opportunity to do just that.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

No Pressure – Few expected either team to be playing in Friday night’s championship at Florence High School but they were, as a result of their upset victories in the tourney semifinals earlier in the week.

Benjamin Franklin upset top-seed and regular-season region champion Florence and the third-seeded Bears defeated No. 2-seed San Tan Foothills, securing the region’s two automatic bids to the state tournament regardless of Friday’s outcome.

A pair of bubble teams entering the region tournament, it’s arguable that neither Benjamin Franklin nor Coolidge qualifies for the 24-team State Championship without advancing to the region finals. Neither team is apologizing, especially with both seemingly peaking at just the right time.

The Benjamin Franklin boys’ basketball team is playing its best at the right time.

“I think we finally are getting our team chemistry together,” Benjamin Franklin senior forward Jordan Kemp told CountyLinePreps.com. “There have been ups and downs the whole season, but in this tournament we finally found our rhythm and identity.

“The fact that some of these games were do or die made us lay it all on the table, and with the success we had we know what we are capable of now.”

Shooters shoot – Neither team was filling it up in the first half, as evidenced by Coolidge’s 1-of-15 shooting from the arc and the Chargers’ two points – TOTAL – in the second quarter on a bucket by Kemp.

The second-half, however, was more of what both teams are accustomed to – their respective leading scorers lighting it up.

With the game tied, 34-34, with 4:49 remaining, Harrison and Bender went on a 3-point barrage, alternating buckets before Coolidge held a 48-43 lead.

“In the second half, we pushed the ball, we found the open players and just dominated,” Harrison said about the difference between each half.

Anything you can do, I can … Do the same?

Coolidge, which trailed 12 – 8 in the second quarter, used a 21 – 5 run to open its largest lead of the game, 29 – 17.

From that point, the Chargers outscored the Bears, 17 – 5, to tie the game, 34 – 34.

What’s that about runs in basketball?

There’s always one coming. Or in this case, two.

THREE STARS – COOLIDGE

No. 3 – Kailee Moore. 6 points, 9 rebounds.

No. 2 – Seth De La Rosa. 11 points, 6 rebounds.

No. 1 – Nick Harrison. 26 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 steals.

Coolidge’s Kailee Moore and Benjamin Franklin’s Adam Martin battle for the opening tip in Friday’s 3A Region Tournament Championship Game. (Andrew Luberda)

THREE STARS – BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

No. 3 – Jordan Kemp. 2 points, 6 rebounds.

No. 2 – Adam Martin. 8 points, 8 rebounds, an assist, and a steal.

No. 1 – Cam Bender. 27 points, 7 rebounds and 3 steals.

HE SAID IT

“We can totally make a deep playoff run if we play our game.” – Bender on the No. 23-seeded Chargers’ chances in the upcoming state tournament.

UP NEXT

Both teams will travel for the first round of the 3A State Championship.

No. 20 Coolidge at No. 13 Holbrook on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 6:30 p.m.

“We have to play defense,” Harrison responded, when asked what his team must do to have success in the state tournament. “Defense wins games.”

No. 23 Benjamin Franklin at No. 10 Page on Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 6:30 p.m.

“We now know what we’re capable of and we’re going to use that as motivation in the playoffs,” said Kemp.