Middle man Molina puts Mountain Lions in 4A hunt

Sierra Vista’s boys basketball team began the season with one of the area’s top backcourts featuring senior guards Viko Noma’aea and Maiscei Grier.

And like a doughnut, the Mountain Lions had something else: a hole in the middle.

Senior Dallin Molina, a 6-foot-5-inch senior who missed his junior season with a right knee injury, joined the group midseason. And he not only filled the void, but turned Sierra Vista into a state tournament team.

"He’s helped so much since he’s been eligible and here," Sierra Vista coach Kent Johnson said.

"He’s not a natural big man, but he plays so well. He’s got a real nose for the glass and blocking shots."

The Mountain Lions (25-6), who had never won a postseason game before this season, play Canyon Springs (27-2) in the Class 4A state semifinals at 4:40 p.m. today at Orleans Arena.

Two-time defending state champion Bishop Gorman (25-5) plays Bishop Manogue (24-5) in the other semifinal at 8.

The state final is scheduled for 8 p.m. Friday.

Grier, who transferred to Sierra Vista from Arbor View, and Noma’aea still lead the way offensively. The sharpshooters are tough to guard on the perimeter. Grier averaged 18.9 points, and Noma’aea 17.8 in the regular season.

But Molina has helped round out the team on both ends of the floor. He averaged 11.0 points and 8.9 rebounds.

Johnson said teams early on thought they could stop Sierra Vista by stopping its two guards.

"(Molina’s) given us another dimension to be able to work inside out, which gives them more space and gives them more freedom," Johnson said. "He’s been that third go-to threat that really makes a difference."

Johnson said Molina’s presence has also made things easier for the team’s other key role players: Gary Jacobs, Justice Odabi and Xavier Rogers.

Jacobs and Odabi, both listed at 6-2, often had to play with their backs to the basket before Molina rejoined the team.

"It’s allowed our other guys like Rogers and Jacobs and Odabi to really flourish," Johnson said. "It’s made a huge difference in the energy that Odabi and Jacobs and Rogers have been able to give us."

For Molina’s part, he’s just happy to be back on the floor. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee the weekend before his junior school year started, leaving him a long road back.

"It was really tough," Molina said. "It was just terrible. I don’t want to ever go through that again. I hope no one has to go through that. It was a terrible experience."

It was also one that left him wondering if he would have the opportunity to compete for a state title.

"I never thought I’d be back in this position to go to state and contend for a championship," Molina said.

Johnson knows that Gorman, ranked No. 15 nationally by USA Today, is the clear favorite. And everyone expects Canyon Springs to make the title game as it did a year ago.

But he said all the Mountain Lions wanted was an opportunity to get to state.

"Once you get in that arena, who knows what happens," Johnson said. "All we wanted was a chance. From the start of the season, we wanted a shot to be there. And if we get there, who knows?

"So now it’s time to see what we can do."

Molina, for one, is ready to leave it all on the floor.

"I’ve been kind of trying to save my energy for this," Molina said. "So I’m going to unleash it all out."

Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at dseiters@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4587.

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