Dec. 22, 2004 - GAME OF THE WEEK: What's the best way to silence a hostile crowd chiding you for a first quarter "air-ball?" Troy Blair of Ironwood Ridge High School's boys basketball team had an answer for the raucous Catalina crowd that mercilessly rode his ego up and down the court Dec. 16.

The forward banged his way to a game high 20 points, including four clutch tallies down the stretch, as Ironwood Ridge hushed the Trojans coming from behind with 20 fourth quarter points to win 61-54.

"Troy is probably the last kid on the team to get fazed by something like that," said IRHS head coach Karl Pieroway of the ribbing his star junior endured throughout most of the Catalina game.

Blair and the Nighthawks (7-5, 2-1 Sonoran Region) will return their cool, calm and collective attitude to friendlier confines next week, as Ironwood Ridge High School will be a host site for the 12th Annual Santa Cruz Shootout.

Forty teams, 24 boys and 16 girls, will descend upon Pueblo and Ironwood Ridge high schools Dec. 27 through 30. The Northwest will be well represented at the Santa Cruz Shootout. On the boys side, joining IRHS will be Canyon del Oro, Mountain View and Marana. Pusch Ridge Christian Academy will join Crane's Ironwood Ridge squad to compete out of the Northwest for the girls.

More than a dozen years ago, Ironwood Ridge girls basketball head coach Gary Crane was looking to create a boys and girls tournament that would keep local teams in town for the holidays. Up until then, most programs opted to travel to different parts of Arizona and out-of-state for its traditional holiday run of games. Crane, then teaching and coaching at Pueblo High School, devised what would seemingly become his life's work for the next decade, the Santa Cruz Shootout.

Crane's brainstorming led him to name the holiday tourney after the Santa Cruz River, which butts up against Pueblo High School. The idea came to him while he was listening to close friend and Pueblo boys basketball coach Barry O'Rourke announce the start of football games as "Welcome to Pueblo High School on the banks of the mighty Santa Cruz River."

The name stuck as the tourney continued to grow larger year by year.

The first tourney in 1992, some eight years before IRHS was even a school, featured a paltry seven teams. This year, there will be almost as many international teams traveling to the greater Tucson area to compete, as there were original teams at the first Shootout. The Santa Cruz Shootout had become so big that Crane said he is now forced to turn teams away, including one team from Australia that wanted to play this year.

The IRHS boys team will get a taste of the international flavor in the first round when the Nighthawks take on the Toronto-based Grand River Collegiate High School at 3 p.m. Dec. 27 at IRHS. Four teams, two boys and two girls, will make the trek from the cold winter winds of Toronto to the sunshine of Arizona. Teams from Deming, N.M., and the farthest reaches of Arizona also will descend upon the Tucson metro area to round out the boys and girls brackets.

For Pieroway's boys squad, the Santa Cruz Shootout is the perfect opportunity to gain some momentum heading into the bulk of region play, which will begin in early January when school resumes. A win over the Canadian team could create a match up with Catalina Foothills and the chance to see where his team stands among elite Class 4A programs, said Pieroway.

For other squads, such as Crane's Ironwood Ridge girls team, the Santa Cruz Shootout will be not only a chance to gain some momentum toward the second half of the season, but also an opportunity to get the kids involved in all aspects of the tourney.

This year's IRHS girls team recently spent a night cooking up 110,000 tamales for the four-day tourney. All money earned from the tourney will be poured right back into the school, said Crane. Previous tourney earnings have gone to fund such facility upgrades as glass backboards in the gyms.

Games will begin at noon Dec. 27 at IRHS, when the Nighthawks square off against Cienega. Other Northwest teams playing their games at IRHS Dec. 27 will include Pusch Ridge girls against Santa Rita and CDO boys versus Cholla at 1:30 p.m. MVHS boys will take on Palo Verde at 6 p.m. Games will continue through the boys championship game at 7 p.m. Dec. 30 at Pueblo High School.

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