Nov. 24, 2004 - High School hoops fans, the eight month wait is over. Basketball returns to the Northwest this week as boys and girls teams take to the hardwood to compete in the 2004 Boyd Baker Invitational.

This year the revolving tournament lands in Ironwood Ridge, which will host all 4A and 5A elimination play. Green Fields Country Day School will host the 1A-3A bracket.

For the first time, the Boyd Baker Invite will separate its tournament between the larger and smaller schools. In years past, schools playing out of the Class 1A through 3A would play against much larger 4A and 5A programs.

Representing the 4A and 5A respectively will be Ironwood Ridge and Canyon del Oro.

Ironwood Ridge will be looking to defend its 4A Sonoran Region title when its season tips-off at the Boyd Baker. The Nighthawks return six seniors from a physically dominating team that went 25-4, 13-1 in the Sonoran Region in 2003. This year's squad is the first true senior class for head coach Karl Pieroway.

Backing the Nighthawks will be three-year varsity starters Garrett Verhage at guard and Jesse Vitch at forward. Pieroway will rely on the play making capability of Troy Blair to produce for the Nighthawks as well.

In the past, Pieroway was hesitant of playing in an early season tournament such as the Boyd Baker, due to the low numbers on his squad. This year, however, Ironwood Ridge's bench is deep and playing in six guaranteed games in a short time won't take such a toll on the team's health.

"We'll be looking at different combinations," said Pieroway of the team's strategy at the Boyd Baker. "By the end of the tournament we should be close to knowing what kind of team we're going to have."

CDO will be looking to run with Ironwood Ridge. Under new head coach Nainesh Desai, a new attitude has taken over the Dorados.

Just as Iron-wood, CDO will stress a solid defense to ignite its offense this season.

"We're big on defense," said Desai of his team's preseason workouts. "Right now we're making sure it's exactly the way we want it."

Led by senior forward Anthony Gonzalez and junior small forward Matt Sanchez, CDO should be able to contend with tourney favorites Ironwood Ridge and Buena, said Desai.

Ironwood Ridge and CDO will face an eight team field at the Boyd Baker consisting of Cholla, Catalina, Sunnyside, Nogales, Buena and Palo Verde.

CDO and Mountain View will be among the 10 programs competing on the girls side. Pusch Ridge Christian Academy and host school Green Fields boys and girls squads will play in the small school tourney.

Elimination games for the Boyd Baker invite will begin Nov. 26 at Ironwood Ridge, 2475 W. Naranja Drive, and at Green Fields Country Day School, 6000 N. Camino de la Tierra. The tourney will finish up with a full slate of games the following day, concluding with the 7 p.m. tip-off for the championship game for the big schools.

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