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Warriors punch ticket into 5A hoops bracket

On of the last qualifiers, Cleveland downs Sandy 67-58 in Tuesdays play-in game


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: PARKER LEE - Clevelands Malik Austin looks to pass the ball inside during its play-in qualifier win at Sandy on Tuesday.The Cleveland Warriors barely snuck into a 5A play-in game as the 23rd seed, but they proved to Sandy and the rest of the state that they are a team to watch out for.

Cleveland jumped on Sandy early in Tuesday’s play-in qualifier and held on for a 67-58 win on to claim a spot in the state tournament.

Though the Warriors were the visiting team and the underdog on paper, they opened the contest like they were the team to beat. Cleveland stormed out to a 15-3 lead in the first few minutes behind an aggressive offensive game plan. The Warriors got the ball into post Alex Sparks on two of their first three possessions which resulted in a layup and a layup-plus-1. Sandwiched in between Sparks’ lay-ins was a wide-open 3-pointer by Danny Carr.

After Carr’s trey, Cleveland made a point to get shots at the rim on almost every possession. With that intent to attack, the Warriors made seven field goals inside of five feet in the first quarter.

On the defensive end, Cleveland contested every shot Sandy put up. Sandy tried to follow the Warriors’ model of scoring by getting to the basket, but Sparks came up with a pair of blocks during the Warriors’ initial run and disrupted three or four more shots under the hoop.

Sandy then tried its hand at jump shooting, but had no open looks. The Pioneers made just three of their first 14 shots and finished the first half 6-of-20 from the field. None of their six makes came outside the paint.

While it was wading through its shooting troubles, Sandy managed to stay in the game by getting to the free-throw line. The Pioneers got 10 points from the line in the second quarter and pulled to within seven points with about a minute left in the first half. They cut it to four points when Bryce Tilton made a streaking layup-and-1. The Pioneers seemed to be gaining some momentum going into halftime, but Cleveland’s Malik Austin quelled it with a 30-footer at the buzzer.

Austin hit two more 3-pointers in the first few minutes of the third quarter to extend Cleveland’s lead back to double digits. The Warriors stretched that edge to 17 points by the end of the period.

Cleveland still led by 17 with 6:30 remaining, but the Pioneers fought back. They finally found their shooting touch and made six of their first seven field goals in the fourth quarter. They also earned three separate trips to the foul line to earn points with the clock stopped.

The Pioneers had their offense clicking, but they had to work harder than they had the whole game on defense. Cleveland starting stalling with about five minutes left, so Sandy was forced to play a tight press defense. The Pioneers’ pesky pressure forced a few turnovers that led to buckets underneath the hoop. The Warriors did their part helping out Sandy by inexplicably putting up contested shots early on a few possessions.

With 2:10 remaining, Sandy’s Tim Grozav cut up the key and dropped in a finger-roll layup to bring the Pioneers to within three points. Cleveland’s Nick Hull made a layup 10 seconds later to answer, but the Pioneers made it a three-point game again when Austin Gorski made a pair of free throws with 1:48 to go.

Sandy fouled the Warriors on their next few possessions to stop the clock, and they opened the door for the Pioneers by making just 2-of-5 foul shots immediately following Gorski’s free throws.

Sandy was unable to capitalize on its chances offensively. The Pioneers made only one of their final seven field goals, a 3-pointer by Juan Ruiz with about 15 seconds left. The Warriors went 8-for-8 from the line in the final 1:10, so their lead was back up to 10 points by the time Ruiz hit his shot. Those three points were inconsequential and Cleveland escaped with a nine-point victory.

Austin fueled the Warriors offensively with 20 points. He was 6-of-6 from the free-throw line in the final minute. Sparks scored 14 points from his post down low and Carr added 13.

With the victory, Cleveland moves on and faces No. 2 Churchill in the first round of the state tournament.