Morenci boys open Leonard Era with a road win, go .500 in first two weeks

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Show Low junior Carlos Robles misses a pass as Morenci senior Steven Shawn Michael Chavez Jr. catches the ball. Chavez netted 8 points against the Cougars while Robles had 6. Show Low left Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium with a 57-40 win on Jan. 30. Additionally, Chavez scored 3 points against Saint Johns, 18 against Round Valley, and 15 against Phoenix Country Day. He made a team-high 10-10 free throws against Round Valley and has a percentage of 75 (21-28) through four games.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – The 2021 Morenci boys basketball team notched several firsts for their first-year head coach during the initial two weeks of competition. The 2A East Wildcats opened the Ruben Leonard Era with a season-opening road win in Paradise Valley, 52-48 over the 2A Metro Region Phoenix Country Day School Eagles on Jan. 23, plus the first home region win over the 2A East Eagar Round Valley Elks, 68-50 on Jan. 27.

Additionally, the Wildcats posted their initial region road loss in Saint Johns’ Verl Heap Gymnasium, falling 43-53 to the Redskins Jan. 29 plus the first non-region home loss, 40-57 to the visiting 3A East Show Low Cougars Jan. 30.

This week, Morenci (2-2 overall, 1-1 region), averaging a 51-52 (203-208) score per game or a 1-point deficit, hosts the 2A South Willcox Cowboys (2-2, 0-1) for a non-region pairing Thursday, Feb. 4 and visits the Pima Roughriders (3-1, 0-0) for a region counter Friday, Feb. 5.

Willcox has averaged a score of 49-57 (194-226) per game or an 8-point deficit. The Cowboys have wins of 40-32 over Patagonia (Jan. 21) and 57-47 over Blue Ridge (Jan. 22) plus losses of 57-78 to Miami (Jan. 20) and 40-71 to Benson (Jan. 29).

Pima has averaged a score of 67-50 (268-199) per game or a 17-point margin. The Roughriders topped Globe 81-46 (Jan. 19), Benson 80-47 (Jan. 22), and Thatcher 59-53 (Jan. 28) before succumbing to Saint David 48-53 (Jan. 29).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Sophomore guard Derek Saenz defends against a first half interior pass by Show Low senior Talon Lester. Saenz netted 10 points and Lester 6.

The Wildcats are in the same region with Saint Johns (3-1, 1-0), Pima, Miami (2-1, 0-0), and Round Valley (1-2, 0-1).

East Region pairings this week include Round Valley at Saint Johns and Pima at Miami on Feb.2; and Miami at Saint Johns on Feb. 5.

Other games for region members are Round Valley at Show Low Feb. 5 and Thatcher at Saint Johns Feb. 6.

Through four games, Morenci has a higher free throw percentage than its opponents, 60 (47-78) versus 56 (35-62). Senior Jordan Reyes has a percentage of 100 (1-1), senior Steven Shawn Michael Chavez Jr. 75 (21-28), freshman Tristan Sanchez 67 (2-3), junior Christian Mpoyo 56 (9-16), senior Maddux Martinez 50 (10-20), senior Nicolas Hammond 40 (2-5), sophomore Derek Saenz 25 (1-4), and senior Torman Lang 0-1.

Cougars – 57, Wildcats – 40

Morenci trailed by five during the initial 2:37 as a Martinez free-throw lit up its side of the scoreboard. A Saenz 3-pointer gave the Wildcats their only lead of the game, with nearly five minutes elapsed. The 8-7 edge disappeared in the closing 29 seconds of the opening period as the visitors took the lead for good on a short jumper. Show Low led 27-19 at halftime and 37-32 heading into the final eight minutes.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Maddux Martinez is fouled by Show Low senior Ruger Seeley on a first period shot attempt. The Morenci senior made his initial free throw to trim a 5-point deficit through the initial 2:27.

The Wildcats got within three points, 24-27, on a Saenz 3-pointer with nearly two minutes elapsed in the second half, and again on the second consecutive Mpoyo 3-pointer, 32-35, with 16 seconds remaining in the third period, but no closer.

“We missed too many shots,” Leonard said.

For the game, the Wildcats made 11 field goals (five 3-pointers) plus 13-22 free throws compared to 24 field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 6-10 free throws by the Cougars.

Mpoyo and Saenz contributed 10 points apiece, Mpoyo on three field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 2- free throws, and Saenz on three 3-pointers plus 1-2 free throws. Martinez added 9 points, Chavez 8, and Sanchez 3.

Junior Cougar Cook paced the Cougars with 22 points on seven field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 5-6 free throws. Freshman Preston Powers added 8 points, senior Isaiah Holcomb 7, senior Tolon Lester, and junior Carlos Robles 6 apiece, and both junior Andre Anderson and senior Ruger Seeley had 4 each.

Redskins – 53, Wildcats – 43

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci Class of 2024 member Elijah Leyba goes up for a fourth-period layup attempt against Show Low.

Morenci’s 10-5 opening period advantage did not hold up through the half.

The host Redskins outscored the visitors 19-10 in the second period to take a 4-point, 24-20, halftime edge and led by as much, 35-31, heading into the fourth period. An 18-12 fourth period effort gave the Redskins the region win.

Morenci made 15 field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 11-18 free throws versus 19 field goals plus 15-30 free throws by the Redskins.

None of the Wildcats reached double-digit scoring. Hammond had 8 points, Martinez 7, Mpoyo 6, Sanchez 5, senior Torman Lang and Saenz 4 apiece, and Chavez had 3.

The Redskins had seniors Brady Overson and Preston Wilson in double figures with 20 and 14 points, respectively. Overson connected on 10 field goals plus 0-5 free throws and Wilson three field goals plus 8-10 free throws. Senior Joseph Bushman added 8 points, senior Parker Humphreys and sophomore Breaden Wall had 4 each, junior Cael Stewart 2, and junior Afton Cox had 1.

Wildcats – 68, Elks – 50

Trailing 10-11 following the opening period, Morenci turned a 25-23 halftime edge into a 45-35 advantage at the start of the fourth period.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci senior Torman Lang goes up for a shot against Slow Low junior Andre Henderson.

The Wildcats made 24 field goals (four 3-pointers) plus 16-24 free throws while the Elks made 22 field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 4-9 free throws.

Chavez, Mpoyo, and Saenz posted double-digit scoring with 18, 15, and 14 points, respectively. Chavez made four field goals plus 10-10 free throws, Mpoyo six field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 2-5 free throws, and Saenz six field goals (two 3-pointers). Hammond and Martinez added 6 points apiece, Lang 4, Reyes 3, and Sanchez 2.

For the Elks, sophomore Treyson Merrill 12 points on six field goals. Seniors Kaden Puzas and Owen Young added 8 points apiece, senior Rylee Hamblin 5, senior Colbt Eager and Strickland 4 each, junior Stockton Brown 3, and seniors Kyran Clark and Makai Funaki along with junior Seth Wiltbank 2 apiece.

Wildcats – 52, Eagles – 48

Morenci’s season opener in Paradise Valley ended with the Wildcats having the higher score at the final buzzer, 52-48.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci freshman Tristan Sanchez puts up a high percentage second-period shot. The Morenci freshman contributed 3 points against Slow Low, 5 against Saint Johns, and 2 against Round Valley. Defending is Show Low freshman Colten Yeager. The visitors were paced by senior Cougar Cooke (1) with 22 points.

The Wildcats overcame a slow start to finish strong with a 37-24 second-half effort. Morenci trailed 9-13 following the opening quarter, 15-24 at halftime, and 34-36 heading into the fourth quarter.

“We took the lead halfway through the fourth quarter,” the MHS Class of 2015 grad said.

For the game, the Wildcats made 22 field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 7-14 free throws compared to 14 field goals (four 3-pointers) plus 10-13 free throws by the Eagles.

Chavez and Martinez totaled 15 points apiece, Chavez on six field goals plus 3-5 free throws and Martinez on seven field goals plus 1-2 free throws, and Mpoyo 12 on four field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 3-5 free throws. Saenz added 6 points and both Hammond and Reyes 2 each.

Senior Will Miraglia led the Eagles with 22 points on seven field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 5-6 free throws, followed by senior Samuel Steiner with 10 on three field goals plus 4-4 free throws. Senior Matthew Linhart added 5 points, junior Kiahn Tehranchi 3, and senior Ben Brodsky, juniors Tanti Felli, and Sam Tepper along with Sammy Brodsky 2 apiece.