CASA GRANDE — After struggling for the past couple of seasons, Vista Grande has been in search of a statement win that will mark the season and be a springboard for the future.
Perhaps on Tuesday, the Spartans found it.
Vista Grande jumped out to a 10-point halftime lead over rival Casa Grande Union and held off a fourth quarter Cougar comeback for a 66-60 win.
“I think the statement is that we belong,” Vista Grande coach Hank Bias said. “We lost a close game to (Oro Valley Canyon del Oro) and we lost a close game to (Tucson) Sahuaro and we lost to (CG Union) close. We belong. We’re not the best team or one of the best four teams in the league, but we belong in the league, and we haven’t embarrassed ourselves.”
The win improves the Spartans overall record to 9-13 and puts Vista Grande in position to pick up its 10th win of the season. However, getting that elusive 10th win is going to be a tall task, as the Spartans will close out the season with games against teams that are in playoff contention including 4A’s top-ranked Tucson Catalina Foothills and No. 4 Tucson Salpointe Catholic.
“For me personally, to watch the program get closer to double digit wins and have a chance to get 10 wins or 11 wins, if we can somehow make it there, that’s what we had dreamed of if we could break double digit wins,” Bias said.
What has been the story of the Vista Grande basketball program for the last two seasons, was no different Tuesday, as once again the Spartans were short-handed — dressing seven. However, in order to pull off the victory, it literally took a team effort, as Vista Grande had four guys in double figures, led by Chris Long’s 20 points. Deion Brooks added 18 points while Josh Juan had 17 points.
“It’s really rewarding for me,” Bias said. “Having seen it all here and still being underhanded tonight. We’re just playing better now, and I’m just real proud of these boys. It’s a little bit emotional for me because I’ve been driving here for years and we kept getting a little better, and I knew at the end of last year we had a chance to be a little bit better if we had everyone.”
Andrew Garcia, the lone senior for the Spartans and has been with the program since the start, chipped in 11 points.
“I’m just happy for him because he’s seen all of it,” Bias said of Garcia. “What an incredible job that Drew had done to keep this together.”
Tony Wall led the Cougars with 26 points, including 15 from behind the 3-point-line.
“Man or man did he have a great game,” Bias said of Wall. “He was just killing us all night and we had no answer for him. He was beating us in every way.”
Mitchell Carlos added 19 points for CG Union, which fell to 7-15 overall including 1-5 in the 4A Kino region.
Vista Grande held a 15-8 lead after the first quarter and used a 8-2 run in the second quarter to take a 27-17 halftime lead.
The Spartans (9-13, 1-5) jumped out to a 37-25 lead in the third quarter thanks in large part to a 10-3 run and led 45-30 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Cougars would mount a fourth quarter comeback by cutting the lead to four points (53-49) after beginning the quarter with a 19-8 run, and again trailed by four points with two minutes left before the Spartans sealed the win by hitting clutch free throws down the stretch.
“They just wanted it more than we did tonight. That’s the bottom line,” Casa Grande coach Robert Peterson said. “We just dug ourselves in a hole early on. You can’t do that against a rivalry game. You have to come ready to play.”
The Cougars defeated the Spartans 43-39 earlier this month.
With CG Union moving to 5A next year and Vista Grande staying in 4A, Tuesday’s game might be the last time the two rivals meet. However, both coaches are optimistic that the two teams will meet next year as part of a freedom game.
“I like crosstown rivalries and especially when it’s in the same town,” Bias said. “It would be nice if we can continue this because of the reaction of that crowd tonight. That was a lot of fun. Of course it’s nice when you win that game, but I’ve been on both sides of it and it’s a lot of fun.”