Steele, Moretto come through in Fallon’s semifinal wins
LAS VEGAS — The Man of Steele saved Fallon’s season on Friday.
Junior forward Thomas Steele, who scored a game-high 24 points, scored the game-tying basket with no time left in regulation and junior guard Elijah Jackson’s putback with four seconds left in overtime gave Fallon its first state tournament win in more than 40 years.
Fallon, which led for most of the game, knocked off No. 1 Mojave of the south – the tournament favorite – 60-59 at the Orleans Arena.
“Just got to go make a play and let the chips fall where they may,” Steele said about his mindset when pulling up for the winner. “I’m confident with the ball. I’m more nervous now. You can’t let anything else interfere with the task at hand. You’ve got to balance it out.
“It’s pretty cool. Every time, it’s a new guy. It’s Elijah in overtime. I love this team. We would do it for anybody.”
Senior Johnny Cooley, who had the game-tying, regulation-ending putback in last week’s 3A regional semifinal win over Lowry, scored 14 points, including a pair of 3’s in the first quarter. Jackson scored 13 points and senior David McFalls added five, including three in the fourth.
With time winding down to nine seconds left in regulation after calling a timeout, Mojave’s Saquevian Williams took the inbound pass from Christopher Jackson on the right end of the baseline, drove alongside and laid the ball up against the glass with four seconds left.
After Fallon coach Chelle Dalager called a timeout, Cooley inbounded the ball from Mojave’s baseline to Jackson, who drove across the court, found Steele at the top of the key and the junior forward dribbled a couple steps, pulled up and sent the Fallon bench into a frenzy.
Both teams traded points in overtime but Mojave took a 59-58 lead when Jackson hit a free throw with 44 seconds left. Cooley missed an attempt to take the lead on the next possession but Damon Mcdowell missed both free throws after Steele fouled out. After a Fallon timeout with 12.5 seconds left, Rooks, standing in front of the Fallon bench passed to Cooley who swung to Hayden Strasdin and found Rooks open on the baseline. He missed but Jackson’s putback gave Fallon the one-point lead with five seconds left before Mojave’s final attempt fell short.
“At this point in the game, your kids just take over,” Dalager said. “Those who are good athletes, strong athletes, take over. They’re smart and they love each other so they’re not afraid to share the basketball. They’ve worked so hard in the season.”
Fallon opened the game with a six-point lead in the first quarter, which including a jaw-dropping dunk from Jackson on the second score of the game. The Greenwave led by as many as nine points after Cooley’s tip-in with 4:23 left in the second before Fallon finished the half with a 29-22 advantage. Mojave outscored Fallon by five in the third to set up the exciting fourth-quarter finish.
Fallon unveiled a secret weapon on Friday.
With two seniors in foul trouble during the 3A state semifinal game against Boulder City, junior Makenzee Moretto came off the bench and scored at will, helping Fallon to a 43-25 win to advance to Saturday’s state championship against Moapa Valley at the Orleans Arena.
“I was just driving. It was the first game that I’ve been able to drive,” Moretto said about her approach. “I didn’t know the score. I didn’t look up there the whole game. I was just into the game.”
Senior Leta Otuafi, who picked up her fourth foul and almost fouled out late in the game, posted a game-high 12 points, including seven in the third quarter. Moretto and Kenna Hamlin each scored eight points with six of Moretto’s coming in the fourth quarter when Fallon outscored Boulder City by 10. Hamlin drained a pair of 3’s in the opening quarter.
Senior Leilani Otuafi was held scoreless in the first half but picked up a bucket in the third to unofficially break the school’s career points record.
“I was just rushing it,” Leilani Otuafi said.
Both teams were tied at 27 at halftime after Boulder City packed the inside, preventing the Otuafis from penetrating and forcing Fallon to shoot from the outside where it struggled after Hamlin’s first-quarter 3-pointers.
But that changed in the second half with Moretto.
“She did a great job. She got the eight points at a crucial time,” Fallon coach Anne Smith said.
Subbing in for Leta Otuafi, who had four fouls, Moretto scored on back-to-back possessions midway in the final quarter. She drove along the baseline to give Fallon a 31-23 advantage and followed with another drive to the basket for a 10-point lead. Moretto scored the game’s last four points to seal the win.