By Zach Alvira, GSN Sports Editor
The Gilbert High girls and boys basketball teams have taken over the 5A basketball tournament brackets.
Each reached their respective state-championship games, where, coincidentally, both face Millennium on Monday, Feb. 25, in back-to-back games at Arizona State University’s Wells Fargo Arena.
The second-seeded Lady Tigers routed No. 3 Horizon, 68-52, in a semifinal and face top-seeded Millennium at 6 p.m. Monday for the championship. Top-seeded Millennium breezed past No. 12 Casteel, 63-35, in the other semi.
The top-seeded Gilbert boys play Millennium for the state title, at 8 p.m. on Monday. The Tigers survived a semifinal thriller over No. 4 McClintock, 46-45, to advance. In the other semi, No. 6 Millennium upset No. 2 Apollo, 72-61.
“I barely had to say anything in the locker room,” Gilbert girls coach Kyle Pedersen said. “This team is for each other. So when times get tough, they all come together and know what we need to do.”
Led by Haley and Hanna Cavinder, Gilbert jumped to a 9-0 lead.
As they have all season, the Cavinders led Gilbert in scoring, combining for 21 points in the first half. The Huskies had few answers for Hanna and Haley, who used a combination of speed and ball-handling to penetrate Horizon’s defense.
“There was a time where they were closer than we thought they would be,” Pedersen said. “We knew we had to take back control and there aren’t many girls that can guard the twins.”
The twins drew fouls or created open looks for teammates.
“It shows that it’s not just about Hannah and I,” Haley said. “We had Leah (Millman) down there hitting six lay ups in a row. Symone (Humphrey) hitting threes. Everybody contributes.”
Haley finished withs 25 points and 7 rebounds. Hanna aded 17 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists.
“We just need to understand that we can’t overhype what it is,” Hanna said. “Coach just always tells us it’s a basketball game, just another game.”
Gilbert’s lead gradually increased through the second half, and there was wild celebration at center court when the final buzzer sounded. As the girls were jubilant in victory, the boys team looked on, hoping they would repeat it later in the night.
And they did, in far more dramatic fashion.
Leading by three points with six seconds remaining, Gilbert center Carson Towt was fouled and sent to the free-throw line with a chance to seal the victory.
Towt’s first free throw went in. His second bounced off the rim and into the hands of McClintock guard Donavan Williams, who hit a buzzer-beating three-point shot from half court. It cut the margin to one point, but that’s all the Tigers needed to move on to the title game.
“That’s the type of moment we like, it’s what we prepare for,” said Towt, who had 8 points and 13 rebounds. “To end practice every day, Coach has one of us hit two free throws to send us home. I hit one but thankfully we were up by three.”
The Chargers led, 20-19, at the half. As they have all season when facing adversity, the Tigers responded, opening the third quarter with an 11-0 run.
“We just trusted each other,” Gilbert guard Doc Self said. “We had to get back to that. That’s what got us here and helped us the entire season. We got back to that and pulled it out.”
But another run by McClintock gave it the lead in the final quarter before defense by the Tigers allowed them to retake the lead, and then ultimately the victory with Towt’s clutch shot at the free-throw line.
“Carson is a kid who came to me and wanted to fix his shot, especially at the line,” Gilbert coach Jay Caserio said. “He worked really hard and shot hundreds of free throws. He’s gotten to the point where he feels comfortable and it was huge.”