ATLANTA — The Sonoraville boys had a program-record setting season that featured plenty of thrilling moments over the last few months, but their journey came to a sudden end on Saturday night.
The Phoenix battled through adversity all night against two-time defending state champion Pace Academy but never got in a consistent rhythm due to a combination of the Knights’ size and skill inside and foul trouble for some of their own key players to fall 62-43 in the first round of the Class AAA State Tournament.
Sonoraville (23-5) got off to a slow start in the first half offensively but stayed within striking distance by playing strong defense despite three starters being in foul trouble. The Phoenix trailed 14-11 at the end of the first quarter and were held to seven points in the second quarter to fall behind 26-18 at the half.
Pace Academy (17-11) continued to force the ball inside with combination of forwards Isaiah Kelly and Cole Middleton making their mark offensively, defensively and on the boards in the first half. Sonoraville starting forwards Chris Rush and Lucas Brooks combined for five fouls to limit their ability to be aggressive defensively, which gave the Knights an advantage in the paint in the second quarter.
“I feel like (Pace Academy) is a good team, and they have good size, strength and speed,” said Sonoraville coach Brent Mashburn. “Their size bothered us on both ends and hurt us on the glass. We worked hard defensively to make them take tough shots, but they kept going and getting their misses. That was one of the biggest differences in the game.”
Despite facing the eight-point deficit at the half and several players nursing foul trouble, Sonoraville battled right back into the game in the third quarter. Down 30-22 early in the period, the Phoenix got two straight buckets from Seth Harkins with the second being a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to 30-27.
Pace Academy answered right back, however, with Kelly knocking down a 3 on the other end to start a 15-4 run over the final minutes of the third. Kelly had a big night with a game-high 28 points, including 21 in the second half as he helped put the game away for the Knights.
Pace Academy built a 49-32 early in the fourth quarter and then killed any hope of a Sonoraville comeback with a 6-0 run from there to push the lead to 23 points.
Mashburn said he was proud of the way his team fought in the second half, but Pace Academy has had a lot of experience in the state tournament the past few seasons that allowed them to answer.
“Tonight we came out and made plays, but we had to deal with foul trouble all night,” said Mashburn. “We had to try to maneuver and manage minutes with guys in foul trouble just to get it to where it was in the third quarter, and we hit some big shots to cut it down to three. But they answered and didn’t allow us to get any momentum after that. They are a two-time defending state champion for a reason. They made shots when they had to.”
Along with Kelly’s 28-point effort, Middleton added eight for the Knights. Myles Todd contributed seven.
Wil Walraven did all he could to keep Sonoraville in the game in his final game of a record-setting high school career. The senior scored 21 points, including 12 of the team’s 18 in the first half, with three 3s among that dozen. He finishes his career as the program’s all-time leading scorer.
Brooks added nine for Sonoraville, and Trent Daniel scored six as his minutes were also limited due to picking up three fouls in the first half.
That trio was part of Sonoraville’s five-man senior class along with Patrick Moore and Luke Stewart that Mashburn said put Phoenix boys basketball on another level.
“There isn’t anything I can say right now that will make them hurt any less after a loss like this to end their career, but once they look back on everything they accomplished, they should be extremely proud,” said Mashburn.
“They made Sonoraville basketball relevant and put us at the level where we get everyone’s best shot whoever we play. I can’t thank them enough for all their work and effort to make this program what it is.”
Despite the loss of a talented senior class, the Phoenix will look to keep the momentum of the program going next year as they return several key contributors, including Harkins, Rush and others. Mashburn said their mission is simple – carry on what the last two senior classes have started.
“That’s what I told them after the game…the bar has been set,” said Mashburn. “This senior group picked up where the one before them left off and continued moving the program forward a 23-win season. Now it’s on these younger guys to build on that and take it to an even higher level. We’ve got a great group coming back, and they understand the work they have to put in to keep us going in the right direction.”