PHOENIX – It looked bleak for Mesquite High School when St. Mary’s went on a fourth-quarter run to take its first lead. Things looked worse when the Knights held a five-point advantage with less than 10 seconds remaining. And it appeared Mesquite’s season was being read its last rites when St. Mary’s prepared to inbound the ball under its own basket with a two-point lead with 2.3 seconds left.
Then came the magic that resurrected their improbable postseason run. After an inbound pass that sailed almost the length of the court was tipped, Mesquite’s leading scorer Nate Calmese scooped up the loose ball and launched a desperation heave from beyond half court as time expired.
It was good.
Chaos, pandemonium and bedlam ensued inside Bool Gymnasium. As the referees emphatically threw their hands up signaling the shot was good, the visiting Mesquite student section cascaded onto the court, and St. Mary’s players crumpled to the floor in silent agony. Instead of repeating as the 4A state champions, the Knights’ season ended in the semifinals 74-73.
The shot of the century in Arizona high school basketball. Nate Calmese lets loose from halfcourt Swish. At the buzzer. Mesquite shocks St. Mary's 74-73. pic.twitter.com/fEaKToH2EN
— Richard Obert (@azc_obert) February 23, 2022
The shot and the scene that followed instantly went viral, and was featured as SportsCenter’s No. 1 play of the day in the ESPN program’s daily Top-10 plays. For Calmese, the shot of his life wasn’t in doubt.
“When the shot went up it was all in slow motion, when it went in I was trying to run to the locker room but I got trapped,” Calmese said. “When I released it, it was perfectly on target so I definitely thought it was going in.”
For Mesquite coach Sean Lynch, the shot heard ‘round the Valley was like nothing else he has seen in his long career.
“Not everybody gets to be in those kind of moments,” Lynch said. “It just gives me a really good feeling. I’m happy for everybody involved.”
It took a huge effort from the entire Mesquite squad to build a big lead, and to ultimately hang on for the upset victory. The Wildcats were ahead by as many as 18 points in the first half, and held an eight-point lead after three quarters. St. Mary’s clawed back and eventually took its first lead midway through the final period. It looked as though the Knights might hang on. They couldn’t have imagined Calmese scripting Mesquite’s storybook ending with his miracle heave at the buzzer.
The defining moment of the Arizona high school basketball season was not without controversy. A series of questionable calls favored Mesquite down the stretch, beginning with a clock management issue in the seconds before the final shot. With St. Mary’s leading 73-71 with eight seconds to go, Mesquite’s Elijah Foster buried a corner three to make it a two-point game. In high school, the clock runs after a made basket unless stopped by a timeout. In this case, neither team had any timeouts left, so when the clock stopped after Foster’s three, the St. Mary’s bench collectively threw their hands up in disbelief.
“In high school basketball the clock is not supposed to stop, and neither team had timeouts left,” St. Mary’s broadcaster Alex Coil said. “The referee stopped the clock, and the AIA head of officials has spoken on that play as well. At the end of the day, the game should be over,yes, but you can still inbound the ball and execute the play. Everything that I’ve seen has led me to believe the final shot was late.”
From the perspective of the Mesquite bench, the shot left Calmese’s hands just in time. As the loose ball trickled near the scorer’s table, he surged in front of a teammate who wisely allowed the Wildcats’ star player to possess the ball and hoist the shot. With the game on the line, the senior guard, who averages 31 points a game, had to be the one who carried Mesquite’s season on his shoulders.
“For sure I wanted to be the one to take the shot,” Calmese said. “Personally I didn’t hear the buzzer until after the shot. All the controversy is, whatever.”
Mesquite got the win, he added, “and that’s all that matters.”
There is no replay in high school basketball, so the bang-bang moment came down to the eye test of the officials. Once they raised their arms to signal the three-point shot was good, St. Mary’s fate was sealed.
“When it went in my first look – and my first thought – was to the referees,” Lynch said. “I wanted to see those hands go up to count it. They did and it was mayhem.”
Mesquite now turns its focus to the State championship game, which will take place on Monday night in Tempe, at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum. The Wildcats will face Salpointe Catholic of Tucson for the 4A crown.
“We have a very mature group, a senior-heavy group,” Lynch said. “I think they have a great understanding of where we’re at, what we’ve done, and what we still can do.”