Morenci drops two home games as state’s top-ranked team

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci senior Ryan Hayes defends against an interior pass by New Mexico Bayard Cobre senior Ezequiel Dominguez. The Indians left Morenci with a 54-53 win and a 7-10 overall record Jan. 26.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – The Morenci Wildcats earned the state’s 2A top ranking following the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday break, but went 1-3 afterward, topping the No. 27 Pumas 65-36 in Bisbee on Jan. 22, and succumbing to the No. 5 Thatcher Eagles 72-69 on Jan. 25 and 54-53 to the New Mexico Bayard Cobre Indians on Jan. 26, both in Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium.

The Wildcats (12-3 seeding, 9-1 East Region for No. 1) ascended to the top spot with a 13.4063 rating while their opponents average rating was 1.2550, but the rating dropped to 8.8615 and their opponents average rating to 1.2394 in the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s system.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci sophomore Shawn-Michael Chavez Jr. looks to take the ball away from Cobre sophomore Javi Garcia. Chavez netted 17 points while Garcia had two.

Three seniors and two sophomores start, a senior and freshman make up the 7-man rotation, and the roster is filled by four sophomores whose playing time remains largely on the junior varsity level. The 2018 roster lost two members to graduation, a starter and reserve, but three others, a senior, junior, and sophomore with varsity experience did not return.

The Wildcats visit the No. 23 Bobcats (7-9 seeding, minus 1.9319 rating, 4-7 region for No. 4) in Benson Thursday, Jan. 31 and host the No. 26 Tombstone Yellow Jackets (6-9, minus 3.5727, 2-8 region for No. 6) Friday, Feb. 1.

The other local remaining region pairing have No. 4 Thatcher (13-4, 9.3746, 10-1 region for No. 2), traveling to No. 10 Pima (11-6, 5.8299, 8-3 region for No. 3) on Thursday, Jan. 31.

Through 10 region contests, the Wildcats have a combined 72 (112-155) free throw percentage compared to 60 (55-91) for opponents.

Individually, percentages are 84 (32-38) for senior Jordan Leonard, 75 (3-4) for Jordan Reyes, 73 (32-44) for senior John Olmsted, 71 (5-7) for senior Matthew Silvester, 70 (7-10) for sophomore Maddux Martinez, 68 (15-22) for senior Ryan Hayes, 65 (11-17) for freshman Christian Mutengelo and 54 (7-13) for sophomore Steven Shawn-Michael Chavez Jr.

Indians – 54, Wildcats – 53

On the verge of a win with 12 seconds remaining and a 53-52 edge, a missed free throw and a pair of made visitor free throws by senior Gabe Ortiz had the Wildcats trailing by one six seconds later. A final possession and hope for a win went as the half-court inbounds pass sailed away from the outstretched hands of the intended recipient.

An Ortiz 3-pointer tied the score 47-47 with 1:18 left to play. He missed the front end of a one plus one 33 seconds later, but added his team’s next seven points, two free throws with 38 seconds left, a 3-pointer with 17 seconds left, and two free throws with six seconds left to finish with a game-high 30 points.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci sophomore Maddux Martinez defends the top of the key to prevent a drive to the basket by Cobre senior Jimmy Rico.

The Indians led from the onset after both teams missed a pair of field goal attempts, a Jimmy Rico 3-pointer with 1:35 elapsed kept the lead until a Chavez 3-pointer gave Morenci its’ initial lead, 21-20, with 3:42 left in the second period. The Wildcats led 27-26 at halftime and 39-38 heading into the fourth period.

Morenci totaled 16 field goals (six 3-pointers) plus 15-22 free throws compared to 19 field goals (six 3-pointers) plus 10-18 free throws by Cobre.

Chavez netted 17 points on six field goals (five 3-pointers) and Olmsted 14 points on four field goals plus 6-10 free throws. Martinez added eight points, Leonard five, Hayes four, Mutengela three, and Silvester two.

Ortiz tallied 30 points on eight field goals (four 3-pointers) plus 8-10 free throws and sophomore Javi Garcia 10 on five field goals plus 0-1 free throws. Seniors Rico, Anthony Ortiz, and George Villegas added five points, four, and three, respectively, junior Ezequiel Dominguez two, and Julian Garza and Enrique Quintero one apiece.

The senior-laden ‘Land of Enchantment’ team exited Morenci with a 7-10 overall record.

 Eagles – 72, Wildcats – 69

The Wildcats trailed by three, 0-3, 41 seconds into their second contest as the state’s top ranked 2A team, and by 15, 57-72, with 1:33 remaining to be played.

Morenci connected on a pair of 3-pointers by Leonard and Hayes to cut the deficit to nine, and 6-7 free throws, 2-3 by Leonard and 4-4 by Olmsted, to pare it down to three with 24 seconds left. Two different Wildcats attempted three long distance shots, none connected. Morenci’s 3-point shooting was less than the 40 percent of the closing minute-and-a-half during the game, or “not very good,” head coach Patrick Hepper said.

Thatcher drilled eight 3-pointers in the first half, five in the opening period to take a 21-10 advantage, and three in the second half while Morenci made five in the second half for a 42-34 outing, but only one in the entire first half.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher seniors Rulon White, Cole Motes, and Matt Palmer await an inbound pass as Morenci sophomore Steven Shawn-Michael Chavez Jr. and senior Jordan Leonard move to their designated areas. The visiting Eagles left Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium with a 72-69 East Region win Jan. 25.

Morenci totaled 23 field goals (six 3-pointers) plus 17-21 free throws versus 29 field goals (10 3-pointers) plus 4-8 free throws by Thatcher.

Hayes notched a career-high 26 points on nine field goals (four 3-pointers) plus 4-4 free throws, Olmsted 23 eight field goals plus 7-10 free throws, and Leonard 16 on four field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 6-7 free throws. Martinez added four points.

Thatcher seniors Rulon White, Cole Motes, Trace Goodman and Matt Palmer contributed 20 points on eight field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 2-6 free throws, 18 on eight field goals plus 2-4 free throws, 11 on four field goals (three 3-pointers), and 10 on four field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 0-1 free throws, respectively. Junior Spencer Stevens added seven points and senior Kason Crosby six.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Christian Mutengela brings the ball up-court with senior Jimmy Rico and sophomore Pasqual Jimenez following. The Morenci freshman contributed three points and Rico five.

Wildcats – 65, Pumas – 36

The Wildcats scored in double figures through the first three quarters while the Pumas did so in only one. Morenci led 20-7 after the first period, 40-14 at halftime, and 60-27 heading into the fourth period.

Morenci totaled 25 field goals (eight 3-pointers) plus 7-9 free throws versus 15 field goals (four 3-pointers) plus 2-6 free throws by Bisbee.

Olmsted netted 15 points on six field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 2-2 free throws and Chavez 13 on five field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 4-5 free throws. Leonard added nine points, both Hayes and Metengola eight apiece, Martinez four, Silvester three, and sophomore Jordan Reyes two.

For Bisbee, junior David Ballesteros had 15 points on six field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 1-2 free throws. Seniors Francisco Urcadez, Julio Urrea, Eddie Alvarez, Jesus Valdez, Mauricio Valdez, and Edwardo Vasquez added eight, four, three, two, two, and two points, respectively.

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