Tark Classic: Contrasting Styles In Final!

Players in this post:
Kaden House Semetri Carr Tyrone Riley

Slow-starting St. Pius-St. Matthias and red-hot Desert Mountain (Scottsdale, Ariz.) advance to the Platinum Division title game at the Tarkanian Classic. For the Warriors, it's a workman-like performance sparked by key role players and for Desert Mountain, it's been the play of the most spectacular player in the entire event.

Tarkanian Classic Platinum Division Final (12/21, PST)
St. Pius-St. Matthias (Calif.) 7-1 vs. Desert Mountain (Ariz.) 9-1, 4:30 pm
Tarkanian Classic Ball Dawgs Division Final (12/21, PST)
Weston Ranch (Stockton, Calif.) 6-1 vs. Liberty Magnet (Baton Rouge, La.) 12-2, 1:30 pm
Tarkanian Classic Spalding Division Final (12/21, PST)
Poly (Riverside, Calif.) 10-3 vs. Carlsbad (Calif.) 9-1, 12 pm

St. Pius-St. Matthias (Downey, Calif.) doesn't always win pretty and tends to start slow, but if it wins and advances, the players don't care. That team-first philosophy had produced results at the 11th annual Tarkanian Classic and has put the Warriors in position to play for the Platinum Division championship.

The Warriors took on St. Augustine (9-2) and the CIF San Diego Section power led 36-32 at halftime in the semifinal contest. Saints was seemingly in control until St. Pius-St. Matthias (7-1) picked up the defense and started making timely buckets to post a 62-50 victory to advance to Thursday's 4:30 pm (PT) championship game.

St. Pius, which lone loss this season is to California No. 1 and FAB 50 No. 9 Harvard-Westlake (North Hollywood, Calif.) by one point in a road game, led 48-45 at the end of the third period, but Saint's first field goal of the final period came with just four minutes remaining in the eight minute stanza. St. Augustine finished with 14 points after intermission. Jaden Bailes, a sophomore guard and Saints' leading scorer in their first two tourney games, had 14 points, but only two after halftime.

St. Augustine had trouble slowing down Pius X big man Doug Langford, who forced double teams inside, created lanes for teammates and worked the offensive glass. The highly-recruited 2025 power forward finished with 20 points and seven rebounds.

San Francisco-bound wing Tyrone Riley of St. Pius-St. Matthias is similar to all-time great middleweight boxing champ Marvin Hager; he can be a slow starter but is a productive and championship player. Riley's mere presence is a threat to foes and he came up with timely shots and clutch rebounds in the second half vs. St. Augustine to finish with eight points.

"We came into the tournament with the mindset to win it (the title)," Riley said.

The Warriors are a scrappy bunch that never get too high or too low on themselves and received some timely second half shots from 6-foot-2 2024 (senior) Tylon Williams. Five-foot-8 2024 David Mack, the unsung hero of Tuesday's quarterfinal victory over FAB 50 No. 44 Alta (Sandy, Utah) with 20 points, came through again late vs. Saints for his team, which trailed by nine points in the second half in its first round win over Coronado (Henderson, Nev.) and by as much as 16 points in the second quarter in the big win over Alta. With 1:21 to go and St. Pius holding on to a 56-50 lead, Mack's slicing lay-up was a big moment and on the other end on Saints' next possession, he came up with a big rebound to put his team firmly in control.

"I just do whatever is needed for us to win," said Mack, a transfer from L.A. Fairfax. "We're just focused on winning."

The Warriors know how to come from behind to win and win in a variety of ways, but they probably can't afford too much of a slow start against their foe in the Platinum Division championship game. That's because Desert Mountain, a young outfit from Scottsdale, Ariz., that starts a pair of brothers who are sophomores and freshmen, have jumped all over teams and kept up the offensive pressure for 32 minutes in its first three victories.

The Wolves' 78-65 semifinal victory over Branson (Ross, Calif.) was no different, as they got it going early to move to 9-1 on the season and handed the Bulls their second loss (7-2 overall). All five of Desert Mountain's starters scored in the first period, as the Wolves led 17-10 after eight minutes.

All four of the Wolves' young perimeter players can burst by defenders, stop on a dime and pop the jumper or whip a pass, but their best player, 6-foot-3 sophomore Kaden House, simply does those things on another level than his peers in the national 2026 class. He is putting forth a show-stopping performance in Sin City and was already up to 20 points at halftime as his team led Branson, 40-30.

Junior guard Semetri Carr (24 points), a blur of a ball-handler himself, kept the Bulls in the game but they couldn't get over the hump dispite a 15-2 run that put Branson (which also got 23 points from Illinois-bound senior guard Jase Butler) within a point at 47-46 after trialing 45-31. The Branson run was stopped by a timely bucket by freshman (2027) guard Jabron Bardwell. From there Desert Mountain, which lost its only game of the season on a buzzer-beating shot by Pinnacle of Arizona, led 58-48 at the end of the third period with House up to 34 points.

In the end, the sophomore sensation was the difference in the game, as he once again nailed his free throws and sliced through the defense to the tune of 43 points and also had nine rebounds. Through three Platinum Division games, he's scored 104 points, good for a 34.7 ppg. One will be hard pressed to find a hotter player in the country or a better all-around guard in the West Region.

A star has been born in a city that has produced many of them over the years in scholastic and grassroots basketball, but the job is not done yet. St. Pius-St. Matthias may not have the same type of flash, but all it does is do its job and close out games.

The contrasting styles will make for quite the interesting Tarkanian Classic championship game.

Ronnie Flores is the national Grassroots editor of Ballislife.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Don't forget to follow him on Twitter: @RonMFlores

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