Fort Thomas meets Safford in the 45th annual EA Holiday Tourney opener Saturday

Jon Johnson File Photo/Gila Herald: The Safford Bulldogs will open this year’s EAC Girls Holiday Tournament on Saturday versus Fort Thomas.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

THATCHER – Third seed Fort Thomas hosts sixth seed Safford in the opening game of the 45th Eastern Arizona Holiday Tourney Saturday, Dec. 18 at 1 p.m.

Fourth seed Morenci hosts first-time tournament participant and fifth seed Saint David at 2 p.m., second seed Thatcher hosts seventh seed Duncan at 6:30 p.m., and top seed Pima draws eighth seed Willcox at 8 p.m., all in Guitteau Gymnasium on the Eastern Arizona College campus.

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: Then Pima junior Nevaeh Grant positions herself for a charge against San Carlos. Grant was one of three roughriders selected to the all-tourney team during the 2019 event.

The second round is Monday, Dec. 20. In consolation round pairings, the Pima – Willcox loser meets the Morenci – Saint David loser at 10 a.m. and the Fort Thomas – Safford loser meets the Thatcher – Duncan loser at 1:30 p.m. The semifinal round has the Fort Thomas – Safford winner versus the Thatcher – Duncan winner at 4:30 p.m. and the Pima – Willcox winner versus the Morenci – Saint David winner at 7:30 p.m.

The final round is Tuesday, Dec. 21. The consolation round losers are paired for seventh place at 10:30 a.m. and winners for fifth place at 1:30 p.m. The semifinal losers meet for third place at 4:30 p.m. and the winners are in the championship game at 7:30 p.m.

No. 6 Safford versus No. 3 Fort Thomas

The Robert Abalos-coached Safford Bulldogs (4-4 overall, 1-2 seeding, 1-0 region) are averaging a 42-35 (463-381) score per game or a 7-point margin while the Lee Haws-coached Fort Thomas Apaches (10-2, 4-1) are averaging a 59-43 (712-515) score per game or a 16-point margin.

Safford has wins of 66-34 over Tucson Catalina (Dec. 3), 47-34 over Lakeside Blue Ridge (Dec. 9), 35-28 over Heber Mogollon (Dec. 9), and 40-31 over Cibecue (Dec. 10). The 3A South Region Bulldogs lost 53-21 to Thatcher (Dec. 7), 54-22 to Holbrook (Dec. 10), 50-17 to Saint Johns (Dec. 11), and 62-13 to Pima (Dec. 16).

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: Safford head coach Robert Abalos takes time to explain a defensive assignment to one of the many young Bulldogs during the 2019 tournament.

Meanwhile, the 1A South Region Apaches have wins of 79-19 over Superior (Nov. 23), 56-17 over Duncan (Dec. 3), 74-39 over San Carlos (Dec. 7), 53-41 over Sanders Valley (Dec. 9), 65-34 over Mogollon (Dec. 9), 61-54 over Saint Johns (Dec. 10), 49-43 over Whiteriver Alchesay (Dec. 10), 61-48 over Alchesay (Dec. 11), 61-40 over Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain (Dec. 11), and 56-37 over Cibecue. The losses were 87-46 to Pima (Nov. 30) and 56-51 to Holbrook (Dec. 11).

No. 5 Saint David vs. No. 4 Morenci

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Zenayah Cortez uses a teammates’ screen to get closer for a shot. She was selected to the all-tourney team in 2019 as a sophomore.

The Matt Brogan-coached Saint David Tigers (7-4, 3-2, 0-0) are averaging a 42-35 (463-381) score per game or a 7-point margin while the Albert Ortega-coached Morenci Wildcats (3-1, 3-1, 0-0) are averaging a 59-41 (234-162) score per game or an 18-point margin.

Saint David has wins of 50-34 over Tombstone (Nov. 29), 57-17 over Duncan (Nov. 30), 47-19 over Fredonia (Dec. 2), 33-12 over Bagdad (Dec. 2), 43-31 over Colorado City El Capitan (Dec. 3), 38-35 over Keams Canyon Hopi (Dec. 4), and 43-21 over San Manuel (Dec. 7). The losses have been 46-43 to Williams (Dec. 3), 41-32 to Joseph City (Dec. 4), 56-52 to Morenci (Dec. 6), and 69-25 to Pima (Dec. 14).

Morenci has topped Phoenix Madison Highland 63-30 (Nov. 30), Saint David 56-52 (Dec. 6), and New Mexico Bayard Cobre 70-31 (Dec. 10). The Wildcats’ lone loss was 49-45 to Eagar Round Valley (Dec. 1).

No. 7 Duncan vs. No. 2 Thatcher

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: Then Thatcher junior Cassidy Wakefield moves into position for a rebound against Morenci. Wakefield was named to the all-tourney team during the 2019 contest.

The Eric Bejarano-coached Duncan Wildkats (5-4, 3-2, 0-0) are averaging a 42-35 (463-381) score per game or a 7-point margin while the Dennis Griffin-coached Thatcher Eagles (2-1, 2-1, 0-0) are averaging a 48-35 (143-105) score per game or a 13-point margin.

Duncan has wins of 27-22 over Willcox (Nov. 22), 37-30 overt Tucson Saint Augustine Catholic (Nov. 23), 26-16 over Winkelman Hayden (Dec. 7), 39-19 over Anthem Prep (Dec. 8), and 31-10 over San Simon (Dec. 14). The 1A South Wildkats’ lost 52-20 to Tucson Amphitheater (Nov. 23), 39-17 to Joseph City (Nov. 24), 57-17 to Saint David (Nov. 30), and 56-17 to Fort Thomas (Dec. 3).

The 3A South Central Eagles have wins of 53-21 over Safford (Dec. 7) and 44-37 in overtime over Fort Defiance Window Rock (Dec. 16). The loss was 47-46 to Whiteriver Alchesay (Dec. 2).

No. 8 Willcox vs. No. 1 Pima

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Aubrie Sherwood (10) shoots a free throw while her twin sister, Ashlie Sherwood, watches. The twins and the rest of Pima’s team are looking to add the EAC Holiday Tournament Championship to their resume.

The Garrett Douglas-coached Willcox Cowgirls (6-4, 5-1, 0-0) are averaging a 33-34 (327-342) score per game or a 1-point deficit while the Roy Corona-coached Pima Roughriders (9-1, 5-0, 0-0) are averaging a 64-30 (642-299) score per game or a 34-point margin.

Willcox has wins of 36-28 over San Simon (Nov. 23), 47-29 over Patagonia (Nov. 30), 38-32 over Tucson Santa Rita (Dec. 2), 49-30 over Saint Augustine (Dec. 7), 30-29 over San Simon (Dec. 13), and 33-26 over Elfrida Valley Union (Dec. 16). The 2A East Region Cowgirls lost 27-22 to Duncan (Nov. 22), 61-38 to Amphitheater (Nov. 23), 40-11 to Benson (Nov. 24), and 40-23 to Tucson Empire (Dec. 8).

Pima has topped Fort Thomas 87-46 (Nov. 30), San Carlos 70-32 (Dec. 2), Gilbert San Tan Charter 81-7 (Dec. 7), Winslow 55-44 (Dec. 9), Phoenix Alhambra 52-18 (Dec. 10), Surprise Paradise Honors 68-28 (Dec. 10), Tuba City 55-23 (Dec. 11), Saint David 69-25 (Dec. 14), and Safford 62-13 (Dec. 16). The 2A East Region Roughriders’ lone loss was 63-46 to Flagstaff (Dec. 11).

Previous Tourney (2020)

The 2020 tourney fell victim to the ongoing global health crisis and was not held.

Top seed San Carlos slipped past second seed Pima 53-50 to capture the 44th tourney title in 2019. It was the seventh meeting of the top two seeds in the finale and the third straight win for the top seed in the most recent 12 tourneys (35th-44th). The second seed won eight times and the third seed once during the same 12-year (2008-2019) span.

San Carlos reached the championship game with wins of 92-21 over eighth seed Duncan in the first round and 66-39 over fifth seed Morenci in the semifinals.

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: San Carlos left Guitteau Gymnasium with the girls 44th Eastern Arizona Holiday Tourney first place trophy in 2019. It was their first in two tries. Members of the Braves’ team were, not in order, head coach Crystal Pietila, Marissa Barrasa, Kayani Case, Heaven Cosen, Cheridan Gooday, Aaliyah Haozous, Courtney Henry, Alyssa Martin, Esperanza Newman, Alyssa Sneezy, Chastity Steele, Sonnaya Upshaw, and assistant coach Joel May.

Pima advanced with a 64-9 first-round win over seventh seed Willcox and a 66-40 semifinal win over third seed Thatcher.

Thatcher downed Morenci 43-29 for third place, sixth seed Fort Thomas defeated fourth seed Safford 56-48 for fifth place, and Willcox slipped past Duncan 23-20 for seventh place.

Advancing in the consolation round were Fort Thomas and Safford with wins of 61-24 over Willcox and 48-19 over Duncan, respectively.

The other first-round winners were Thatcher (69-58 over Fort Thomas) and Morenci (44-34 over Safford).

Tourney Records

San Carlos is 1-1 as a finalist. The 2019 Braves set a meet single-game scoring record with its 71-point, 92-21, game 2 win over Duncan during the first round. San Carlos made 37 field goals (eleven 3-pointers) plus 7-12 free throws.

The previous high was 91 points by Thatcher against Clifton during game 4 of the 25th tourney first round (Dec. 20, 2000). The Eagles ended with 40 field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 10-13 free throws for a 61-point margin, 91-30.

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: Heaven Cosen tied a single-game record for most points scored and totaled 53 for the three games. The San Carlos senior was selected to the all-tourney team.

Individually, Heaven Cosen became the third player to score 35 points in a game, tying Pima’s Shari Lunt and Clifton’s Roberta Lopez.

Cosen tossed in 15 field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 2-4 free throws against Duncan. It was during the first round game 2 of the 44th tourney on Dec. 12, 2019. The Braves ran away to a semifinal advancement.

Lunt connected on 13 field goals plus 9-14 free throws against Clifton. It was during the first round game 3 of the 11th tourney on Dec. 18, 1986. The Roughriders won 59-44.

Lopez made 13 field goals plus 9-17 free throws against Morenci. It was during the consolation round game 6 of the 13th tourney on Dec. 21, 1988. The Trojans prevailed 61-50.

Beginning as a 4-team, 2-day meet with two games each day during the nation’s 1976 bicentennial year, the ensuing 43 tourneys included eight teams with four games in three days. Morenci defeated Clifton 55-42 for the title after the Wildcats topped Thatcher 56-11 and the Trojans downed Safford 29-15 on the first day. Safford ended third with a 33-21 win over Thatcher.

After 44 tourneys, Safford is 93-37 overall, playing only two games in the 1998 meeting because the seventh-place game was not held, and Thatcher 89-42. Duncan (54-75) and Willcox (52-78) have both played in 43 tourneys, Pima (66-57) and Fort Thomas (59-64) in 41 tourneys, Morenci (58-61) in 40 tourneys, and San Carlos (5-1) in two tourneys.

Nine other teams have also participated, Clifton (19-72) in 31 tourneys, Miami (3-12), and New Mexico Cliff (9-6) in five tourneys, both Globe (5-1) and San Simon (1-5) in two tourneys, and Ajo (1-2), Eagar Round Valley (1-2), New Mexico Bayard Cobre (1-2), and Tucson Green Fields Country Day School (0-3) in one tourney apiece.

Raymundo Frasquillo File Photo/Gila Herald: Gila Hank encourages everyone to come see the annual girls and boys basketball tournaments.

Safford is 16-9 in title games, won five in a row from 2014-18 (39th-43rd), three straight from 1983-85 (8th-10th), and winning back-to-back in 1990-91 (15th-16th); Thatcher 12-9 and has the meet record for most consecutive title wins, seven from 1997 – 2003 (22nd-28th); Pima 3-8, winning back-to-back in 1992-93 (17th-18th); Morenci 3-6; Willcox 3-2, winning back-to-back in 1992-93 (17th-18th), Duncan 2-3; and Fort Thomas 2-3, winning back-to-back in 2005-06 (30th-31st).

Four other finalists have two titles between them. Globe is 1-1, Cliff 1-0, and both Clifton and Round Valley 0-1 in the championship games.