Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher’s Collin Thompson (32) drives to the hoop for two. Pima emerged victorious, 56-44, to cap an unbeaten regular season in the 2A East Region.
Roughriders enter 2A East Region Tournament as the number one-seed regular season champs
By Jon Johnson
THATCHER – A stifling defense and a patient offense helped the Pima Roughriders (12-0 region, 21-5 overall) pull out to an early lead they would not relinquish over the Thatcher Eagles (8-3 region, 16-9 overall) on Thursday. The Roughriders left the Eagles’ nest with a 56-44 victory to cap off an unbeaten season in 2A East Region play.
Pima head coach Cliff Thompson praised Thatcher’s tenacity and said he believed the teams would meet again in the upcoming 2A East Regional Tournament.
“I will be very surprised if we aren’t playing Thatcher in the championship next Friday,” he said.
Thatcher head coach Robby Martindell, in turn, praised Pima’s play and said the Eagles would be gunning to be their best in the upcoming tournaments.
“They say you’ve got to beat the best to be the best,” Martindell said. “It doesn’t matter where we get seeded, we have to beat everybody. We just gotta make the tournament and then we give ourselves an opportunity to make our own Cinderella story.”
Starting point guard Alec Judd gave credit to his teammates who battle against him and the rest of the starters every day in practice for preparing them to take on Thatcher.
“We have a lot of guys who bust their butts in practice and some seniors who don’t get a lot of playing time, but they’re the ones who push us in practice,” Judd said. They’re the reason why we are region champs.”
The Roughriders jumped out to a 4-0 lead in a playoff-like environment as the gym was absolutely packed with basketball fans from Thatcher and Pima.
The Eagles’ big man Collin Thompson led the charge by muscling his way down low for a couple of buckets to tie the game at 4-4 with only about three minutes left in the first period. His subsequent free throw gave Thatcher its only lead of the night, 5-4. Thompson finished with a team-high 15 points.
Tied at 7-7, Pima went on a 7-0 run to close out the first period, capped by an athletic left-handed scoop layup Alec Judd made while being fouled. Judd finished the and-one by hitting the free-throw and the Roughriders were up 14-7 after one period.
Pima’s defense held court in the second period and Thatcher didn’t score until the halfway mark when Collin Thompson broke the ice with a bucket. However, the Eagles played some tough defense as well and only allowed a Drew Thompson 3-pointer and a Jacob Brimhall putback in the same amount of time. Drew would finish with four treys on the night and a game-high 18 points.
Thatcher only mustered two points in the first six minutes of the second period but got two more field goals by Collin Thompson and Spencer Stevens to close out the period and push its offensive total to six. Conversely, Pima managed slightly better with nine points in the period to push its lead to double digits at 23-13 at the break.
After being held scoreless in the first half, Michael Greer broke free in the third period, scoring three 3-point field goals to bring Thatcher within six points, 28-22. Greer would finish with 14 points on the night, all in the second half.
“Greer got going and he’s dangerous,” said Cliff Thompson. “He’s a good shooter. I think we did a better job in the fourth quarter getting on him. He didn’t get off many shots in the fourth quarter.”
Pima’s guards were up to the challenge, and answered Greer with a 3-pointer by Judd and then back-to-back 3-pointers by Drew Thompson to extend the lead back to 12 at 34-22 with about three minutes left in the period.
“They were setting a lot of screens for Michael and that’s why he was getting open 3’s,” Drew Thompson said. “We need to help better on those screens. As far as hitting my 3’s, my teammates work hard on offense and draw in the defense, which gets me open. I just knocked them down tonight and it feels good.”
Thatcher could only muster three free throws by Stevens for the rest of the third, and Thompson countered that with yet another 3-pointer to keep Pima up by 12 heading into the fourth period with the score 37-25.
In the fourth, Pima’s Tim Salyer found his groove in the Roughriders’ patient offense, and scored in the paint, including an and-one play with about six minutes left in the game.
Thatcher got it down to an eight-point game after a 3-pointer by T.J. Reed with less than three minutes to play, but a pair of fast-break layups by Judd and Jacob Brimhall helped seal the game as Pima emerged victorious 56-44.
“It was a good game,” Brimhall said. “It was pretty enjoyable to be in but it was pretty tough on defense guarding big guys like Collin Thompson and Spencer Stevens, but our help defense really came through for us.”
“I was happy for our seniors,” Cliff Thompson said. “We had five seniors in the game at the end to let them finish the season.”
Martindell said he is looking forward to possibly seeing Pima again in the 2A East Regional Tournament.
“We’ve got one more opportunity to go and try to beat those guys,” he said. “That’s what has been fun. It’s always nice to have somebody else who has your number. As a coach, that’s what makes it fun is trying to figure out what that is to get my players to flip that switch and figure out that puzzle.”
View a photo album of the game here.