Morenci boys host Benson for region finale Thursday; Wildcats upset Phoenix Country Day, Thatcher on the road

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher freshman Brandon Napier checks the defense as the official hands him the ball on a first-half inbound play. The Eagles led 13-8 following the opening period but fell 49-38 to Morenci on Jan. 31.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – The Tommy Navarrete-coached Wildcats defeated a pair of higher-ranked teams between a pair of losses over the last two weeks.

The No. 37 Wildcats knocked off No. 6 Phoenix Country Day 57-54 in Paradise Valley on Jan. 24 and No. 16 Thatcher 49-38 in the Eagles’ nest Jan. 31. The losses were 40-52 to the No. 5 Roughriders in Pima on Jan. 21 and 45-51 to the No. 29 Bisbee Pumas in Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium on Feb. 1.

Rankings coming out of the weekend for region members were Pima No. 6 (14-3 seeding, 6.5539 rating) of 50 2A teams, Thatcher No. 15 (9-6, 2.1929), Benson No. 27 (7-8, minus 3.2866), Bisbee No. 29 (7-9, minus 4.5598), Morenci No. 30 (6-9, minus 4.9759), Willcox No. 35 (3-11, minus 7.9493), and Tombstone No. 43 (2-13, minus 11.9774).

As of Feb. 1 pairings, Pima (11-0 region) leads the 2A East Region, followed by Thatcher (7-2), Benson (5-5), Bisbee (5-6), Morenci (4-6), Willcox (3-7), and Tombstone (0-9). Thatcher’s loss against Morenci guaranteed Pima to be the regular-season region champion.

Pima has topped Benson twice, 34-31 (Dec. 10) and 57-38 (Jan. 17); Morenci twice, 55-44 (Dec. 2) and 52-40 (Jan. 21); Bisbee twice, 81-46 (Dec. 3) and 50-41 (Jan. 24); Tombstone twice, 52-22 (Dec. 20) and 64-34 (Jan. 28): Willcox twice, 69-41 (Jan. 29) and 61-35 (Jan. 31); and Thatcher 47-36 (Jan. 14).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Maddux Martinez goes after a second-half loose ball with Thatcher sophomore Tanner Palmer. The Morenci sophomore had a team-high 14 points against the Eagles while Palmer did not score.

Thatcher defeated Bisbee twice, 79-54 (Dec. 10) and 69-53 (Jan. 17); Willcox twice, 59-28 (Dec. 11) and 74-38 (Jan. 24); Morenci 62-39 (Jan. 7), and Benson 58-37 (Jan. 9), and Tombstone 78-49 (Jan. 21).

Benson’s wins are twice over Bisbee, 62-59 (Dec. 13) and 57-45 (Jan. 21); twice over Tombstone, 42-26 (Dec. 17) and 55-37 (Jan. 24); and 58-37 over Willcox (Dec. 20).

Bisbee topped Willcox 64-31 (Dec. 5); Morenci twice, 70-66 (Dec. 20) and 51-45; and Tombstone twice, 74-18 (Jan. 7) and 39-29 (Jan. 31).

Morenci’s wins are 70-40 over Tombstone (Jan. 10), 62-56 over Benson (Jan. 14), 53-47 over Willcox (Jan. 16) and 49-38 over Thatcher (Feb. 1).

Willcox bested Morenci 64-59 (Dec. 10), Tombstone 42-37 (Jan. 14) and Benson 55-48 (Jan. 28).

East Region games remaining total seven. Morenci is at Tombstone, Thatcher at Benson, and Willcox at Bisbee on Tuesday, Feb. 4; Benson at Morenci, Pima at Thatcher, and Tombstone at Willcox on Thursday, Feb. 6; and Tombstone at Thatcher on Friday, Feb. 7.

The region tourney begins Feb. 11.

Through 22 games, the Wildcats are being outscored by an average of 51-53 (1,111-1,172) per game or by a 2-point deficit. Morenci’s free throw percentage is 63 (178-283) compared to 63 (173-273) for its combined opponents.

Individually, junior Jeremiah Rojas has a percentage of 83 (5-6), junior Maddux Martinez 75 (38-51), freshman Derek Saenz 70 (7-10), junior Torman Lang 63 (5-8), senior Dominik Waters 61 (17-28), sophomore Christian Mpoyo 60 (49-82), junior Steven Shawn Michael Chavez Jr. 60 (37-61), junior Nicolas Hammond 33 (2-6), and both junior Jordan Reyes and freshman Daylen Johnson 0-2 each.

Pumas – 51, Wildcats – 45

Trailing 32-40 through three-quarters, the Pumas erased Morenci’s advantage with a 12-0 run lasting 5:07 into in the fourth quarter. Bisbee took the lead for good with 2:37 of the final eight minutes elapsed.

Mpoyo added a free throw to halt the run and get Morenci within three, 41-44, but the Wildcats got no closer during the remainder of the game.

Morenci trailed by 10, 6-16 with 1:53 left in the first quarter after tying at 6-all 2:07 earlier. The Wildcats led by 10, 35-25 mid-way through the third quarter after breaking a 21-21 tie with 1:09 left in the second quarter.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Steven Shawn Michael Chavez Jr. runs into resistance while driving to the basket against Thatcher defenders. The Morenci junior netted eight points against the Eagles.

The Wildcats made 19 field goals (four 3-pointers) plus 3-5 free throws compared to 19 field goals (six 3-pointers) plus 7-3 free throws by the Pumas.

Chavez totaled 17 points on seven field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 2-4 free throws. Martinez added nine points, Mpoyo and Saenz both seven apiece, Waters three, and Reyes two. Mpoyo had 13 of 35 rebounds and Martinez seven; Saenz seven of 17 steals and five of eight assists; and Waters took a charge.

For the Pumas, senior Miguel Urcadez had 13 points on eight field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 9-12 free throws, senior David Ballesteros 11 on four field goals plus 3-4 free throws and senior Will Wright 11 on four field goals (three 3-pointers). Senior Luke Hammett added eight points, freshman David Zamudio five, junior Jonathon Chacara two, and sophomore Edward Holly one.

Wildcats – 49, Eagles – 38

The visitors’ game plan was obvious. They were patient, slowed down the pace, led 22-21 at halftime and 35-26 heading into the fourth period.

Thatcher took a 23-22 edge 49 seconds into the second half on senior Spencer Stevens’ field goal. It would be the hosts’ final lead of the game.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Freshman Derek Saenz goes up for a shot attempt against Thatcher. He had four points and as many assists.

Morenci countered with a 10-0 run over the next 3:19. Thatcher broke its scoring drought with senior Collin Thompson’s field goal 50 seconds later.

The Eagles steadily chipped away at their deficit. Thompson’s final field goal got Thatcher within four, 38-42, with 1:38 left. There was no scoring over the ensuing 50 seconds, but, head coach Robby Martindell drew three technical fouls and was ejected.

Morenci added 5-6 free throws with 48 seconds remaining, and two more 24 seconds later. The game ended 49-38 in favor of the guests. The Eagles led 13-8 following the first period.

The Wildcats connected on 17 field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 17-24 free throws versus 15 field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 5-11 free throws by the Eagles.

Martinez tallied 14 points on six field goals plus 2-2 free throws and Waters 12 on three field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 5-6 free throws. Mpoyo added nine points, Chavez eight, Saenz four, and Rojas two. Mpoyo had 11 rebounds, Chavez five steals, and Saenz four assists.

For Thatcher, Thompson had a team-high 17 points on seven field goals plus 3-5 free throws. Sophomore T.J. Reed added six points, Stevens five, junior Michael Greer and freshman Brandon Napier four apiece, junior Mark Wren two.

It was the second straight win for Morenci in Thatcher. The Wildcats prevailed 59-56 on Nov. 2018, preceded by a 13-game Eagles’ win streak, eight with a double-digit margin and five under 10 points, in their own facility.

Wildcats – 57, Eagles – 54

“It was a great team win,” Navarrete said. “We shot great from the free-throw line, defended well most of the night, which was why we rebounded well.”

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Christian Mpoyo elevates for a high percentage shot attempt in Thatcher. The Morenci sophomore had nine points and 11 rebounds against the Eagles.

He lauded the individual contributions of several players. “Saenz had his best game of the year, Martinez did his usual good shooting and Mpoyo his great rebounding, and Waters continued his senior leadership. Hammond came off the bench and had a great game, including making clutch free throws late in the game. The rest of the team also played well.”

 “Another important aspect we (coaching staff) felt led our team win was Chavez,” Navarrete said. “We had a 4-point lead when he turned his ankle with around two minutes to go in the first half. We struggled and trailed by six at the half. He got taped, played hurt and limped most of the remainder of the game, but gutted it out. He played his usual tough defense and was a major reason we came back, got the lead, and held onto it.”

The Wildcats tied the score 41-41 mid-way through the fourth period, grabbed the lead and did not relinquish it the rest of the game. Morenci turned in a 26-17 fourth period effort to emerge with a win.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher home crowd moves with the music during a break in the Morenci game.

Phoenix Country Day led 28-22 at halftime and 37-31 heading into the fourth period. Morenci had a 14-10 first period advantage.

The Wildcats made 21 field goals (four 3-pointers) plus 16-23 free throws compared to 18 field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 17-24 free throws by the Bobcats.

Martinez totaled 23 points on five field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 3-4 free throws, Mpoyo 14 on six field goals plus 2-3 free throws, Hammond 11 on three field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 4-4 free throws, and Chavez 10 on four field goals (two 3-pointers). Saenz added five points, and Rojas two. Mpoyo had 14 of 38 rebounds, Chavez and Martinez seven apiece, and Hammond five; Hammond and Saenz both handed out four assists, and Saenz made five of eight steals.

For the Eagles, senior Daniel Gomez netted a game-high 25 points on nine field goals (seven 3-pointers) plus 3-4 free throws and sophomore Tanti Felli 10 on four field goals plus 2-4 free throws. Junior Will Miraglia added nine points, junior Samuel Steiner six and both junior Ben Brodsky and sophomore Kiahn Tehranchi two each.

Roughriders – 52, Wildcats – 40

Pima senior Tim Salyer dialed long distance and connected with 3:03 elapsed in the final period to give the Roughriders a 43-34 advantage. It had been a 6-point game two minutes into the fourth period.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Junior Nicolas Hammond (15) passes the ball ahead of Drew Thompson’s steal attempt Jan. 21. The Morenci reserve had his best game of the season in Paradise Valley Jan. 24, recording 11 points, five rebounds, and four assists against Phoenix Country Day School.

Morenci countered with a Mpoyo field goal 11 seconds later but needed the ball to score and committed fouls. Pima made 7-9 free throws versus two additional Mpoyo field goals to account for the scoring.

The Roughriders led 28-20 at halftime and 38-32 after three periods. The score was deadlocked 14-14 following the first period.

Morenci had 16 field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 6-8 free throws versus 21 field goals (five 3-pointers) plus 10-13 free throws for Pima.

Mpoyo netted 15 points on six field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 2-2 free throws and Martinez 13 on five field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 2-2 free throws. Chavez added seven points, Lang and Reyes two each, and Rojas one. Mpoyo had eight of 21 rebounds, Chavez three of eight assists, and Saenz three of ten steals.

For Pima, junior Tim Salyer contributed 16 points on four field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 6-6 free throws, senior Alec Judd 10 on four field goals plus 2-4 free throws, and senior Thygerson 10 on five field goals. Senior Drew Thompson and junior Kaleb Blair added seven points apiece, and junior Jacob Brimhall two.

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