Morenci girls oust Bobcats in Benson, make Round of 16 field Friday

Morenci’s bench reacts to an on-court play. The Wildcats jumped out to a 12-0 advantage en route to a 62-58 play-in round win over Benson on Feb. 18. Morenci takes on Bisbee at Prescott High in the Round of 16 on Feb. 21.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

BENSON – Morenci ended the regular season by going 2-1and dropping the region tourney pairing as the fifth seed at fourth seed Benson.

The Greenlee County girls split two region games, downing Tombstone 52-34 on the road Feb. 4 and succumbing 25-33 to Benson in Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium Feb. 6, and defeating New Mexico Bayard Cobre 44-35 in Morenci Feb. 8.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci’s defense allowed the Wildcats an early advantage against the Bobcats during the No. 19 at No. 14 play-in pairing.

Through 24 regular-season games, the Wildcats averaged a 42-40 (1,006-966) score per game or a 2-point margin.

A region tourney pairing as the fifth seed at fourth seed Benson ended with a 31-36 loss Feb. 10.

However, the Albert Ortega-coached Wildcats prevailed 62-58 in their most important game of the 2020 campaign, the play-in pairing of No. 19 at No. 14 Benson Feb. 18. The guests left Benson with passage to the state tourney Round of 16.

Final East Region standings were Bisbee first with an 11-1 mark, Thatcher second (11-1), Pima third (8-4), Benson fourth (6-6), Morenci fifth (4-8), Tombstone sixth (2-10), and Willcox seventh (0-12).

Bisbee topped Pima twice, 60-55 (Dec. 3) and 47-46 (Jan. 24); Willcox twice, 47-28 (Dec. 5) and 69-20 (Feb. 4); Thatcher 44-34 (Dec. 10); Benson twice, 44-34 (Dec. 13) and 53-35 (Jan. 21); Morenci twice, 51-45 (Dec. 20) and 61-44 (Feb. 1); and Tombstone twice, 58-21 (Jan. 7) and 63-18 (Jan. 31).

Thatcher defeated Willcox twice, 48-33 (Dec. 6) and 71-17 (Jan. 24); Morenci twice, 50-45 (Jan. 7) and 57-28 (Jan. 31); Benson twice, 43-24 (Jan. 9) and 53-35 (Jan. 21); Pima twice, 34-30 (Jan. 14) and 47-46 (Jan. 24); Bisbee 51-45 (Jan. 17), and Tombstone twice, 60-6 (Jan. 21) and 53-27 (Feb. 7).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Brigid Silvester drives to the basket against Benson junior Jennifer Barker. The Morenci senior totaled a career-high 26 points while Barker had three.

Pima’s region wins are over Benson twice, 55-29 (Dec. 10) and 46-25 (Jan. 17); over Morenci twice, 58-32 (Dec. 5) and 58-39 (Jan. 21); over Tombstone twice, 64-14 (Dec. 20) and 51-29 (Jan. 28); and Willcox twice, 58-10 (Jan. 29) and 53-18 (Jan. 31).

Benson’s wins are over Tombstone twice, 62-21 (Dec. 17) and 55-20 (Jan. 24); over Willcox twice, 55-20 (Dec. 20) and 53-8 (Jan. 28); and over Morenci twice, 44-34 (Jan. 14) and 33-25 (Feb. 6). Morenci’s wins were over Willcox twice, 64-59 (Dec. 10) and 55-21 (Jan. 16), and over Tombstone twice, 52-40 (Jan. 10) and 52-34 (Feb. 4). Tombstone’s wins were over Willcox twice, 30-26 (Jan. 14) and 29-28 (Feb. 6).

The final 2A (50 teams) rankings for region members were Bisbee No. 2 (16-1 seeding), Thatcher No. 3 (16-2), Pima No. 8 (14-5), Benson No. 14 (9-8), Morenci No. 19 (7-9), Tombstone No. 28 (5-13), and Willcox No. 35 (1-15).

In the region tourney, Bisbee drew a bye, fourth seed Benson defeated fifth seed Morenci 36-31, second seed Thatcher ran away from seventh seed Willcox 64-23, and third seed Pima bested sixth seed Tombstone 55-17 during the first round Feb. 10.

Bisbee stopped Benson 47-32 and Thatcher toppled Pima 59-32 during the semifinals Feb. 12. Bisbee edged Thatcher 49-48 for the tourney title Feb. 14.

The play-in round had three upsets, lower seeds defeating higher seeds, No. 23 Eager Round Valley (7-11 seeding) 34-32 over No. 10 Globe (18-2), No. 19 Morenci (7-9) 62-58 over No. 14 Benson (9-8), and No. 16 Phoenix Christian (14-4) 43-29 over No. 12 Parker (13-5).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Brigid Silvester and Zenayah Cortez run down Benson junior Taylor Fenn.

The other five higher-seeded teams prevailed, No. 9 Avondale Saint John Paul II Catholic (16-2) 63-24 over No. 24 Scottsdale Prep (7-12), No. 11 Saint Johns (15-3) 67-32 over No. 22 Chandler Lincoln Prep (10-6), No. 12 Sedona Red Rock (11-7) 48-40 over No. 21 Scottsdale Christian (10-8), No. 13 Sanders Valley (14-5) 63-30 over No. 20 Glendale Prep (10-7), and No. 15 Whiteriver Alchesay (13-5) 66-37 over No. 18 Phoenix Arizona Lutheran (13-6).

The play-in winners meet the top eight ranked teams for the Round of 16 Friday, Feb. 21. The quarterfinals are Saturday, Feb. 22.

Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, 1826 West McDowell Road in Phoenix, will be the site of the semifinals Feb. 28 and final Feb. 29.

Morenci, Pima, and Thatcher have the highest opponent ratings of the Round of 16 participants, with 5.6064, 4.8087, and 4.4277, respectively.

The lower bracket has are No. 3 Thatcher (16-2 seeding) versus No. 14 Phoenix Christian (14-4) in Findlay Toyota Center at 11 a.m., No. 7 Gilbert Leading Edge (16-2) vs. Saint Johns (15-3) on the Prescott Valley Bradshaw Mountain campus at 6 p.m., No. 2 Bisbee (16-1) vs. No. 15 Morenci (7-9) on the Prescott High campus at 6 p.m., and No. 6 San Carlos (17-1) vs. No. 10 Saint Johns (15-3) in FTC at 6:30 p.m.

Upper bracket pairings include No. 1 Camp Verde (18-0) versus No. 16 Round Valley (7-11) in FTC at 12:30 p.m., No. 8 Pima (14-5) vs. No. 9 Saint John Paul II (16-2) on the Bradshaw Mountain campus at 3 p.m., No. 4 Phoenix Country Day School (17-1) vs. No. 13 Alchesay (13-5) in FTC at 5:30 p.m., and No. 5 Phoenix Valley Lutheran (17-2) vs. No. 12 Sanders Valley (14-5) on the Prescott High campus at 7:30 p.m.

Morenci – 62, Benson – 58

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci senior Desiree Babb listens to instructions from head coach Albert Ortega.

It’s hard to beat the same team four times in the same season coaches will say.

But, it was the Wildcats’ “finest hour” in Benson, topping the come from behind overtime triumph over Douglas for the Copper Cities Tourney title in early January.

The Wildcats’ aggressive defensive play coupled with the return of sophomore Juliauna Forgach-Aguilar was the difference. Aguilar, injured during a region contest in Pima Jan. 21, was cleared to play earlier in the day.

“She made a big difference,” Ortega said.

Morenci led 12-0 before the host Bobcats erased the zeros on their side of the scoreboard, on junior Emily Darwin’s initial field goal of the evening with 3:30 elapsed in the opening period. Senior Brigid Silvester contributed eight of the Wildcats’ first dozen points. A pair of Aguilar field goals raised the Wildcats’ advantage to 13, 16-3, 1:10 later.

Benson went on a 12-4 run in the final 2:23 to trail 20-15 at the start of the second period. The Bobcats pared their deficit to four, 24-20 midway through the period, yet never tied or led during the game. Morenci had a 14-6 run to close out the period and led 38-26 at halftime. Silvester added nine of the 14 points.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci freshman Mia Ontiveros checks the Benson defense before deciding what to do.

A Silvester field goal with 1:12 elapsed in the second half gave Morenci a 14-point advantage, 40-26, and a pair of her free throws raised it back to 14, 42-28, 1:03 later. But, a pair of Darwin 3-pointers lowered the margin to single digits, 44-36 with 2:59 left in the third period. Senior Desiree Babb’s field goal gave Morenci a 10-point advantage, 46-36 with 48 seconds later, but sophomore Shaylin Taylor’s field goal and junior Jennifer Barker’s 1-2 free throws in the closing 58 seconds narrowed the score to 46-39 at the start of the final period.

The Wildcats led by 13, 59-46 with 4:42 remaining, but the Bobcats outscored their guests 12-3 during the rest of the game to finish four short. Benson cut a 10-point deficit, 62-52 with 51 seconds remaining, on back-to-back 3-pointers in the final 41 seconds.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci sophomore Devanie Medina anticipates a steal while guarding Benson junior Taylor Fenn.

Morenci totaled 20 field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 19-29 free throws compared to 22 field goals (eight 3-pointers) plus 6-20 free throws by Benson.

Silvester netted a career-high 26 points on six field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 12-18 free throws and Aguilar 11 on four field goals plus 3-4 free throws. Junior Zenayah Cortez added eight points, junior Destanee Marquez seven, and both senior Desiree Babb and sophomore Devanie Medina four apiece.

For Benson, Darwin turned in a game-high 29 points on 11 field goals (six 3-pointer) plus 1-4 free throws and Taylor 17 on seven field goals plus 3-6 free throws. Sophomore Chloe Martin added five points, junior Jennifer Barker and freshman Celina Wilharm three each, and freshman Ally Crouse one.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci sophomore Zenayah Cortez trips as she goes after a loose ball.

Benson – 36, Morenci – 31

The region tourney pairing found the Wildcats with a 10-7 opening period advantage, but a 2-8 second period outing had Benson leading 15-12 at halftime.

Morenci trailed 20-23 heading into the final period. An 11-13 effort was not enough to overcome the deficit in the low scoring game.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Wildcats’ Destanee Marquez, Juliauna Forgach-Aguilar, Zenayah Cortez, and Devanie Medina line up for a fourth-period inbound pass.

The Wildcats connected on 12 field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 5-8 free throws compared to 13 field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 7-21 free throws by Benson.

Marquez and Silvester contributed nine points apiece, Cortez seven, Babb four, and Medina two.

For Benson, Darwin had 11 points on five field goals plus 1-4 free throws. Wilharm added eight points, Taylor six, Barker five, Crouse four, and junior Taylor Fenn two.

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