How Good Is Holbrook?

Longhorn win today will move team to state championship


Beating a good opponent four times in a single season is a tough task to accomplish.

Such rare feats usually happen only when the teams are total mismatches in terms of talent.

But when Holbrook and Payson meet for the fourth time this season, at 1:15 p.m. today, Friday, in Arena in Glendale, the talent of the two squads is even.

Although the Horns whipped Holbrook, 52-45, 84-55 and 70-62, earlier this season, the Roadrunners proved they belonged in the state tournament's final four, along with Payson, by beating state No. 1 ranked Estrella Foothills, 90-84, in overtime.

The win, which occurred in the elite eight of the state tournament Feb. 17 at Northern Arizona University, propelled the Roadrunners into the final four against a Longhorn team that upset Chandler Seton Classic, 46-42, in the quarterfinals.

In the Roadrunners' win over Estrella, Holbrook thumped a team that was undefeated in West region play, had compiled a 24-5 record overall and was riding high atop the role of state tournament championship favorite.

Adding to the aura of the Estrella team was that it featured two players, Corey and Brandon Hawkins, who are sons of former Philadelphia 76ers star, Hershey Hawkins.

The elder Hawkins worked as an assistant coach on the Foothills squad.

But, for all the hype Foothills received during the season, the team was no match for Holbrook and its 6-foot-5-inch, 187-pound senior center, Olen Hatch.

Against Estrella, and most of the season, Hatch has been spectacular.

He is currently the East's scoring leader (20.7 points per game) and is second in rebounds only to Payson's Oliver Lewinson. He also shoots at a 60 percent clip and is a decent defender in the paint, as evidenced by his 14 blocked shots this season.

But, as good as Hatch is, he has struggled against Payson.

In Holbrook's Jan. 3 loss to the Longhorns, Hatch -- recently selected the East Region Player of the Year -- was held to nine points. In a Jan. 24 defeat, he scored just 10. His best night against PHS occurred Feb. 20 in the regional tournament when he tallied 20 points.

PHS coach Chuck Hardt credited Payson's success in holding back Hatch to Carlos Lopez.

"(Lopez) and we played with a lot of energy up and down the floor," he said.

Lopez says he relishes playing defense and has usually drawn the task of defending Hatch.

Lopez, a 6-foot senior forward, was hobbled in the postseason with an ankle injury, but Hardt said he expects him to be a full strength against Holbrook.

Hatch, however, isn't the only Roadrunner the Horn defenders must slow. Other targets will be East region assist and steals leader, Jason Belin, and his backcourt running mate, Ricky Attakai -- Holbrook's best three-point shooter.

For Payson

Payson will counter Holbrook's big three of Hatch, Belin and Attakai with the one-two punch of Miles Huff and Lewinson.

There are those who argue that Huff, second in the region in assists, third in steals and 12th in scoring (9.8 ppg) should have beat out Hatch for Player of the Year honors.

Huff's true value to the team turned evident in the second half of the Horns' state tournament win over Seton, when he almost single-handedly took over the tough task of bringing the ball up court against the pressing Chandler defense.

His cool head and calm demeanor allowed the Payson team to set up its half-court offense and also run the fast break when it was available.

Lewinson is the Longhorns' scoring leader with a 16.5 ppg average and leads in region in both rebounds and blocked shots.

At 6 feet, 8 inches, he is tough to stop inside, even when he's double- and triple-teamed.

Although Huff and Lewinson have been the Horns' go-to players most of the season, the remaining cast has also had their shining moments.

Cody York, Levi Neal and Hunter Hardt have turned in quality minutes and 6-foot-6-inch sophomore, Matt Wilson, has come off the bench to give Lewinson a breather.

Anthony Pearce, a 6-foot-3-inch junior, has also received some quality playing minutes.

If the Horns emerge victorious against Holbrook, PHS will advance to the state championship game at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 24 against the winner of a final four game, pitting Fountain Hills against Coolidge.

The last time Payson won a boys basketball state title was in 1979.

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