Friday, Feb. 20, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Eldorado’s Mitrell Clark limped to the free throw line with 25 seconds left in overtime of the Sunrise Regional semifinals.
Grimacing with pain, Clark knew he had to make both free throws to turn the Sun Devils’ lead into a two-possession game.
Yet despite his throbbing right ankle, Clark knocked down both free throws for his 50th and 51st points of the night to ice Eldorado’s eventual 92-90 win over Desert Pines at Liberty High School on Thursday night.
Clark added nine rebounds, five assists and two steals to his game-high 51 points. He finished 15-of-24 from the field and 18-of-21 from the free throw line.
“He is the real region MVP,” Eldorado coach Michael Uzan said. “51 points – that speaks for itself. The kid is a leader. He deserves it. He works the hardest. He worked all summer long. He was in the gym every morning at 6 a.m. That’s why he is where he’s at today.”
Not only did Clark score seven of Eldorado’s 10 points in overtime, but the senior guard also dominated the game from the opening whistle.
Clark did not miss a shot in the first quarter as he posted 18 points in the opening eight minutes.
“I was just trying to get my team pumped up,” Clark said. “I wanted to help my teammates conserve their energy and get the buckets fast so when (Desert Pines) focused on me, my teammates could do their thing.”
Marcus Moreland led Clark’s supporting cast with 21 points and 15 rebounds while Charles White added 12 points and 11 rebounds.
Although Clark seemed to score at will, Desert Pines hung close all game.
The Jaguars actually took a 43-41 lead at halftime when Pierre Jackson nailed a long 3-pointer as time expired. Desert Pines capitalized on that momentum and took a 75-66 lead with less than four minutes remaining in the third quarter.
The Sun Devils rallied in the fourth, though, and had a chance to seal the victory at the free throw line.
With Eldorado up 82-80, Moreland missed both free throws, which allowed Desert Pines’ Reggie Shaw to grab a rebound and spring the length of the court to force overtime with the game-tying bucket.
Shaw and Jackson each notched 30 points, but it was Shaw who dominated the Jaguars from the perimeter, hitting six-of-13 3-pointers.
When Shaw fouled out just 10 seconds into overtime, Clark and the rest of the Sun Devils took over.
“I’m proud of my team,” Clark said. “We overcame the situation today. When we went to overtime, I was a little nervous, but I thought about the experience we had and we got the job done.”
Eldorado will now face Liberty in the Sunrise Regional championship after the Patriots pulled out their own nail biter, squeezing by Foothill 50-49.
Points were a lot scarcer in the second semifinal at Liberty High as the Patriots and Falcons engaged in a back-and-forth defensive battle.
Both teams entered the fourth quarter tied 34-34 and as the final minute of the game approached, but squads were locked in a 48-48 tied.
But then Liberty’s Milos Knezevic sank two free throws with 59 seconds remaining to put the Patriots on top 50-48. Knezevic finished with 17 points and five rebounds.
“He’s been doing that for us for two years now,” Liberty coach Pat Welby said. “He steps up in clutch times and knocks them down.”
Foothill’s Kadeem Minor had a chance to tie the game from the free throw line, but he missed one, which proved to be the difference in the game.
Liberty, the No. 3 seed out of the Southeast Division, had originally prepared to play Eldorado in the opening round before Desert Pines’ penalties for use of an ineligible player shattered the Sunrise brackets.
Both the Patriots and the Sun Devils will play their third game in as many days Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Liberty High School.
“(Eldorado) is tough,” Welby said. “They are athletic, but anything can happen. We’ll go out and play and see what happens…Hopefully we can play on some adrenaline tomorrow.”
Steve Silver can be reached at 948-7822 or [email protected].