Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Brayden Bowman knifes between Morenci’s Joseph Seballos and Melecio Briggs, punctuating a 13-0 run that vaulted Safford over Morenci for the E.A.J.H.A. conference tourney title Jan. 23.
By Raymundo Frasquillo
SAFFORD – As a result of playing as a team, the Safford 8th grade boys’ basketball team emerged from the three-day Eastern Arizona Athletic Association Conference tourney as champions, topping Morenci’s 8th graders 39-32 for the title Jan. 23.
A pair of Joseph Ruelas free throws broke the game’s fourth tie and sparked a 13-0 run with 4:25 left to play, vaulting the Bulldogs over the Wildcats. A Nephi Fox 3-pointer, a Ruelas field goal, two Brayden Bowman field goals, and a Ki Turner field goal accounted for the game-deciding run.
Morenci countered with a 6-0 burst in the final 1:24, but it was not enough. The Wildcats ended as runner-up for a second straight year. Morenci was second to Pima in 2019.
Safford led 17-15 at halftime and 23-22 heading into the fourth period.
The score was deadlocked at 7-7 following the opening period. Ruelas and Fox field goals along with an Isaiah Alvarado 3-pointer gave the Bulldogs a 7-0 advantage before Morenci lit up its side of the scoreboard. A Melecio Briggs field goal with 2:18 left, 1-2 Donovan Vozza free throws with 1:12 left, a Tristan Sanchez field goal with 38 seconds left, and an Austin Hudman field goal 33 seconds later tied the score for the first time.
A Hudman 3-pointer with 13 seconds elapsed in the second period gave Morenci its initial lead of the game, 10-7. However, Alvarado’s second 3-pointer knotted the score 13 seconds later. Hudman’s second 3-pointer 12 seconds after gave Morenci a 13-10 advantage and a Ruelas field goal pared Safford’s deficit to a point with 4:23 left in the half.
Briggs added a field goal to lift the Wildcats to 15-12 at the 4:01 mark, but a Bowman field goal 55 seconds later and Ruelas 3-pointer with 50 seconds left in the half gave the host Bulldogs the advantage.
A Ruelas 3-point play 15 seconds into the second half extended the Bulldog’s lead to five.
Morenci countered with a 5-0 run, 1-2 Sanchez and 2-2 Hudman free throws plus a Sanchez field goal during the ensuing 3:23, knotting the score at 20-20 with 2:22 left in the third period. Another Sanchez field goal 20 seconds later gave Morenci its final lead of the game, 22-20.
A Fox 3-pointer with 1:08 remaining in the third period gave the Bulldogs the edge heading into the final period.
Another Fox 3-pointer with seven seconds elapsed in the fourth period put the Bulldogs ahead by four, 26-22, but successive field goals by Vozza and Sanchez knotted the score a final time, 26-26, with 5:00 remaining.
For the game, Safford sank 15 field goals (six 3-pointers) plus 3-9 free throws while Morenci made 12 field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 6-12 free throws. The teams both had two double-digit scorers.
Ruelas ended with a game-high 14 points on five field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 3-7 free throws and Fox 11 on four field goals (three 3-pointers). Alvarado and Bowman added six points apiece and Turner two,
The rest of the Bulldogs roster included Thomas Biggs, Chris Carrasco, Carlos Castillo, Nathaniel Quintero, Keaton Ruiz, Bralin Smith, and Xander Webb.
Morenci’s Sanchez and Hudman had 13 and 12 points, respectively, Sanchez connected on five field goals plus 3-4 free throws and Hudman on four field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 2-2 free throws. Briggs added four points and Vozza three.
Ryan Biggs, Keaton Jasso, Aaron Mason, Andrew McCallum, Frankie Morales, Thomas Murillo, Emilio Roybal, and Joseph Seballos made up the rest of the Wildcats’ squad.
The top-seeded Bulldogs (10-0) ousted fourth seed Pima (5-5) in the semifinals Jan. 22 after drawing a first-round bye Jan. 21.
Second seed Morenci (6-4) eliminated third seed Thatcher (6-4) in the semifinals and seventh seed Globe’s Destiny in the first round.
In other first-round pairings, Pima downed fifth seed Fort Thomas (3-7) and Thatcher defeated sixth seed Duncan.