Morenci sits atop 2A East after win over Pima on Saturday

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci’s Ryan Hayes sends a shot by Pima’s Hayden Ashby back to sender. The Wildcats used a suffocating defense on their way to a 37-25 victory over the Roughriders on Saturday.

By Jon Johnson

jonjohnsonnews@gmail.com

PIMA – With road wins over Thatcher earlier in the month and now against Pima on Saturday, Morenci sits in the driver seat as the road to the regional championship will likely run through the Wildcats’ lair. 

Morenci (7-3 overall, 4-0 region) did it with defense Saturday, as the Wildcats held the Roughriders without a field goal in the first period and only one made field goal in the third on their way to a 37-25 victory. 

Video by Jon Johnson/Gila Herald

“We really wanted to make sure we focused on the defensive end,” Morenci head coach Patrick Hepper said. “Obviously, 37-25 is not a pretty basketball game from a scoring perspective, but we really wanted to focus on making sure that we had guys on their team take shots that were uncomfortable taking shots.”(sic) 

It was the lowest point total of the year for Pima (6-5 overall, 4-1 region), which played without standout big man Dawson Pruszynski, who will be out with his leg injury until after the Christmas break. Jake Whitaker played with his injured thumb in a wrap, however, and will continue to play with it until the season is over before getting it thoroughly examined by a doctor. Whitaker said he likely sustained ligament damage to his thumb but doesn’t want to risk surgery until after the season is over.  

The biggest takeaway from Saturday was the number of open shots the Roughriders missed – especially mid-range jump shots which appear to be a lost art in today’s game. 

“Our defense was there,” Pima head coach Cliff Thompson said. “We held a good offensive team to 37 points. But when you can’t knock down shots – and that’s what we gotta do. We got to find a way to knock down some open looks.”(sic) 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci’s John Olmstead (12) puts Pima’s Hayden Ashby (31) and Alec Judd (5) on a poster.

While the game took place Saturday afternoon, the bank was still open for Jordan Leonard, who sunk a deep 3-pointer off the glass to open the scoring.

Pima didn’t hit a field goal until Drew Thompson picked up a loose ball and scored a fast-break lay-up with about two minutes eclipsed in the second period.  

Morenci big man John Olmstead led the way with 14 points in the game, as he hit from inside and outside in the first half with a dunk and a 3-pointer to put Morenci up 20-14 at the half. 

The Roughriders only managed one field goal for two points in the third period on a rebound put back by Levi Thygerson. For Morenci, Olmstead continued to hit and Maddox Martinez had 6 of his 12 points in the third period to stretch the lead to 30-16 heading into the fourth. 

Pima attempted a comeback with scrappy defense that kept Morenci to just one field goal in the period and caused several turnovers. Hayden Ashby scored on a nice assist from Drew Thompson and followed that up with a near coast-to-coast lay-up over Olmstead after picking up a loose ball. 

A late 3-pointer by Drew Thompson was too little, too late, however, and Morenci left Pima with the victory, 37-25.

“I’m happy with our defensive effort, but offensively, we got to look at some ways to maybe get us some different type of looks in games,” Cliff Thompson said. “With the big guy inside, we really just need to knock down some outside shots and I think our confidence will take off.”(sic)

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Pima’s Levi Thygerson scores off an offensive rebound.

With the win, Morenci sits in first place in the 2A East Region with an unblemished mark of 4-0, while Pima is in second at 4-1 and Thatcher is in third at 3-1. With wins over Thatcher and Pima on the road, Hepper said his team has won the conference games it needed to set up Morenci as likely having to be beaten at home to take away the region title from them. 

“Knowing that they have to come to our gym later on in the season is something that we’re excited about,” Hepper said. “At the end of the day, we’ve won the conference games that are most important so far. And while we go to EAC and we obviously want to compete to win, we won the games that we really needed to win so far this season.” 

Morenci will next face the 1A St. David Tigers (3-3 overall, 3-0 region) on Monday at 1 p.m. at the 56th annual Eastern Arizona Holiday Tournament in Guitteau Gymnasium.

Pima has lost three of its last four games and hopes to end the slide against the 1A Fort Thomas Apaches (5-2 overall, 0-0 region) on Monday at 8 p.m. at the 56th annual Eastern Arizona Holiday Tournament in Guitteau Gymnasium.   

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