Morenci girls basketball opens season with Bearcats on Nov. 26, return nine veterans

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Senior Desiree Babb, right, is one of two returning three-year letter winners. Morenci opens the season with the Kearny Ray Bearcats in Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium Tuesday, Nov. 26.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – Nine hardwood veterans are back for the 2020 Morenci girls’ basketball team, paced by three-year letter winners Desiree Babb and Brigid Silvester.

The seniors were both 2A East Region honorees in 2019, Silvester as a 2nd Team selection and Babb as honorable mention.

Other letter winners include three two-year winners in seniors Reona Alvarez and Sarina Robledo plus junior Destanee Marquez, and four one-year lettered senior Yrliana Molina plus sophomores Juliauna Forgach-Aguilar, Zenayah Cortez, and Devanie Medina.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: From left, freshman Kellee O’Connell, senior Yrliana Molina, sophomore Juliauna Forgach-Aguilar, and freshmen Hannah Silvester and Mia Ontiveros take part in conditioning drills during a recent practice session. A total of 24 student-athletes are out for MHS girls’ program. 

Second-year head coach Albert Ortega has had a full year to work with the Wildcats and liked what he saw during the recent scrimmage. He has a few drills in his back pocket to help address things the Morenci student-athletes lacked in Fort Thomas last week.

Others out for the program include senior Monica Gonzales; juniors Jadah Cortez, Elicia Esquivel, Amaya Sanchez, and Shandiin Spean-Austin; sophomores Thalia Martinez, Viviana Mendez-Draper, and Delicia Roybal; and freshmen Sandra Aguilar, Keirah Chee, Briseis Hudman, Kellee O’Connell, Mia Ontiveros, Hannah Silvester, Violet Kindle.

Morenci has posted back-to-back 9-16 seasons, succumbing in the region tourney first round both times, 40-46 to Bisbee (2019) and 32-36 to Willcox (2018). The 2017 version ended 16-10 with a 51-52 play-in home loss to Keams Canyon Hopi. Region standings in the same 3-year span were fifth of seven (2019), fourth (2018), and second (2017).

The state rankings (ratings) were No. 27 (minus 5.5970) in 2019, No. 27 (minus 3.3489) in 2018, and No. 10 (8.2897) in 2017.

Morenci has not matched the three consecutive region championship teams (2006-08) or the state semifinal finish of the 2008 (30-3) season since. A Gold-Ball trophy was last earned in the early 1980s.

The Wildcats have 16 games and two tournaments scheduled for the 2019 season. Non-region opponents include the Kearny Ray Bearcats (Nov. 26), the New Mexico Bayard Cobre Indians (Jan. 11), Tucson’s The Gregory School Hawks (Jan. 17), and the Phoenix Country Day School Eagles (Jan. 24) are on tap.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Senior Brigid Silvester switches hands during a ball-handling drill at a recent practice session. She earned a third varsity letter and East Region 2nd Team honors last season.

Twelve East Region games begin with Pima (Dec. 5, Jan. 21), Willcox (Dec. 10, Jan. 16), Bisbee (Dec. 20, Feb. 1), Thatcher (Jan. 7, Jan. 31), Tombstone (Jan. 10, Feb. 4), and end with Benson (Jan. 14, Feb. 6).

Morenci opened the 2019 season with a 35-64 road loss to Ray. The Kearny team ended the season with a 47-50 overtime loss to Teec Nos Pos Red Mesa in the 1A state tourney first round. The 21-7 Bearcats should return eight of the 12-member team fielded, four seniors (class of 2019), three juniors (class of 2020), four sophomores (class of 2021), and a freshman (class of 2022).

The Wildcats were limited to double-digit scoring in two periods compared to three by the host Bearcats, and trailed from the onset. Morenci’s deficit was 17-6 following the opening period, 32-17 at halftime, and 56-24 after three periods.

Twelve field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 10-22 free throws were made by the Wildcats versus 23 field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 15-20 free throws by the Bearcats.

Silvester had five points, Babb three, and Forgach-Aguilar, Alvarez, and Cortez two each. Four Wildcats not on the 2020 team contributed the other 21 points.

For the hosts, Shelby Yocum (class of 2020) netted a game-high 31 points on 11 field goals (one 3-pointer), and Julie Meza (class of 2021) 10 on two 3-pointers plus 4-4 free throws. Emma Stuart (class of 2021) had five points and Emily Rutter (class of 2020) two. Two 2019 grads contributed the other 16 points.

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