Pima, Morenci earn automatic state berths from 2A East Region

Photo By Stan Bonifacio: Pima’s Jake Whitaker puts it off glass. Pima prevailed over Thatcher, 60-39 in the 2A East Regional Tournament semifinal and will face Morenci in the final Friday night.

Roughriders and Wildcats to battle Friday night for 2A East Regional Tournament Championship

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – Pima and Morenci earned the boys 2A East Region automatic state meet berths following the region tourney semifinal wins over Thatcher and Benson, respectively, in Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium on Thursday. Region No. 3 seed Roughriders upended the No. 2 Thatcher Eagles 60-39, and the top seed Wildcats outdistanced the No. 4 Benson Bobcats 67-40.

The tournament champion will be decided in Morenci on Friday, Feb. 8 starting at 7 p.m.

Photo By Stan Bonifacio: Thatcher’s Cole Motes scores at the rim.

Round one was played Feb. 5, with the lower seeds visiting the higher seeds, and each of the higher seeds advancing. Thatcher (11-1) ousted No. 7 Tombstone (2-10) 72-47, Pima (8-4) eliminated No. 6 Willcox (2-10) 60-29, and Benson (4-8) slipped past No. 5 Bisbee (4-8) 71-65.

The final state rankings will be made Saturday, Feb. 9 and the state play-in tourney for seeds 9-24 begins next week with the higher seeds as hosts. The winners advance to the 16-team state meet in Prescott.

Thatcher entered the region tourney semifinals ranked No. 4 overall in the state 2A rankings, Pima No. 11, Morenci No. 5, and Benson No. 25. Bisbee was at No. 26, Tombstone No. 29, and Willcox No. 31.

Pima – 60, Thatcher – 39

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher’s Matt Palmer (25) drives on Pima’s Hayden Ashby.

A week later, the visitors again prevailed in the Thatcher versus Pima pairing. However, this time Pima was the visitor, clad in dark jerseys and Thatcher was the home team wearing white jerseys.

The Roughriders brought their “A” game and led 7-0 with 2:13 elapsed in the game, and 9-1 with 3:47 left in the opening period before Thatcher scored its initial field goal. Pima put up double-digit scoring in each period compared to one by Thatcher. The Roughriders led 31-14 at halftime and 48-30 at the start of the fourth period.

The Eagles could not cut the deficit to single digits throughout the second half. Pima led by 20, 41-21 with 4:12 and 46-26 with 2:10 left in the third period.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Pima’s Dawson Pruszynski (12) defends against Thatcher’s Rulon White.

Pima totaled 23 field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 12-19 free throws versus 16 field goals (four 3-pointers) plus 3-8 free throws by Thatcher.

Senior Dawson Pruszynski had a game-high 22 points on nine field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 2-4 free throws. Junior Drew Thompson and senior Jake Whitaker added eight points apiece, Senior Hayden Ashby and junior Alec Judd both seven, junior Levi Thygerson six, and junior Chris Rodriguez two.

Thatcher senior Matthew Palmer had 11 points on four field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 2-5 free throws. Seniors Kason Crosby and Cole Motes added eight points apiece, senior Trace Goodman seven, seniors Michael Greer and Aleck Verdugo both two, and senior Rulon White one.

Morenci – 67, Benson – 40

There was no question of the outcome and it became a complete team effort for the Wildcats, with the starters scoring 45 points and the reserves adding 22.

Benson outscored Morenci’s reserves 20-9 in the fourth period, but Morenci led 58-22 through the first three periods.

Morenci led 19-0 through the initial seven minutes of the opening period. The Bobcats had eight turnovers before connecting on their seventh shot attempt, junior Carson Barney’s 3-pointer with 49 seconds remaining. The Wildcats added another two points with a second left.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci’s John Olmsted (12) and Maddux Martinez (13) defend against Benson’s Alvero Montoya.

The host Wildcats went up by 25, 28-3 before the Bobcats scored a second field goal, senior Austin Smith’s 3-pointer with 5:32 left in the first half.

Morenci totaled 28 field goals (eight 3-pointers) plus 3-5 free throws compared to 15 file goals (seven 3-pointers) plus 3-7 free throws by Benson.

Sophomore Maddux Martinez tallied 14 points on six field goals (two 3-pointers), senior Jordan Leonard 12 on five field goals (two 3-pointers), and sophomore Steve Shawn-Michael Chavez Jr. 10 on four field goals (two 3-pointers). Freshman Christian Mutengela added nine points, senior Ryan Hayes and sophomore Jeremiah Rojas five apiece, and senior John Olmsted, sophomore Jordan Reyes, and senior Matthew Silvester four each.

Senior Alvero Montoya netted 16 points on six field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 2-3 free throws for Benson. Senior Jay Haro added nine points, Barney seven, Smith three, senior Braven Berryhill and junior Hayden Jacobson two each, and junior Talon Palmer one.