Safford girls make it five straight Eastern Arizona Holiday Tourney titles

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Safford left Guitteau Gymnasium with the girls 43rd Eastern Arizona College Girls Holiday Tournament first-place trophy. Members of the Robert Abalos-coached team are, from left, head coach Robert Abalos, Analysa Schilling, Kasiah Schilling, Brinley Kempton, Mikenzi Drage, Deion Abalos, Analysa Montez, Mia carter, Jessica Bright-Shade, Cambry Cluff, Brooke Lucas, Rachel Fox, and assistant coach Wade Pedro.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

The Robert Abalos-coachedSafford Bulldogs left Guitteau Gymnasium with the first-place trophy of the 43rd annual Eastern Arizona College Girls Holiday Tournament on Dec. 15.

Top-seed Safford topped third-seed San Carlos 52-35 for the title, fourth-seed Fort Thomas 57-26 in the semifinals, and eighth-seed Duncan 48-12 in the first round.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Jessica Bright-Shade draws a foul during a shot attempt against San Carlos. The Safford junior made 1-2 free throws to give the host team a 45-40 advantage with 3:17 remaining in the title game. She was selected to the all-tourney team.

San Carlos reached the championship game with wins of 76-36 over sixth-seed Morenci in the first round and 67-60 over Thatcher in the semifinals.

Fort Thomas defeated Thatcher 58-51 for third place, fifth-seed Pima topped seventh-seed Willcox 46-29 for fifth place, and Morenci pulled away from Duncan 50-35 for seventh place.

Advancing in the consolation round were Willcox and Pima with wins of 42-24 over Morenci and 49-14 over Duncan, respectively.

The other first-round winners were Thatcher (67-31 over Willcox) and Fort Thomas (52-42 over Pima).

Championship Game

First time meet participant San Carlos brought an unblemished record into the finale, a 76-46 (609-368) average score per game, and came within 1:18 of leaving with a 9-0 overall record. However, the Bulldogs outscored the Braves 15-7 during the final 5:28 to earn a fifth consecutive meet title and 16th overall.

San Carlos senior Beyoncé Carter added the Braves’ final points, a 3-pointer, to narrow the difference to three points, 48-45, with 1:18 left to play, but no closer.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Safford head coach Robert Abalos calls out a defensive assignment to the Bulldogs.

Safford senior Deion Abalos connected for two 27 seconds later, 50-45, plus a pair of free throws 16 seconds after that, 52-45, to complete the scoring with 35 seconds remaining.

Coach Robert Abalos was able to breathe a sigh of relief as the final horn sounded.

“It was an ugly win,” he said. “Turnovers and rebounds, I don’t think we had any rebounds. They have two rebounders. They’re a good team.”

San Carlos led 11-10 following the opening period, Safford led 21-17 at halftime, and San Carlos led 34-29 at the start of the final eight minutes, but field goals by Safford sophomore Mia Carter, junior Cambry Cluff, and senior Analysa Montez gave the designated home team a 35-34 edge with 1:24 elapsed in the fourth period.

A pair of baskets by junior Alyssa Martin slipped the Braves ahead by one, 39-38, 58 seconds later, but it would be the dark-clad team’s final lead of the game.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Safford senior point guard Analysa Montez drives past San Carlos junior Heaven Cosen. Montez tallied 14 points and Cosen 13, and both were selected all-tourney.

The Bulldogs totaled 20 field goals (four 3-pointers) plus 8-14 free throws compared to 18 field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 7-17 free throws by the Braves.

Abalos finished with a game-high 17 points on seven field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 2-4 free throws, Montez 14 on five field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 3-6 free throws, and Carter 12 on four field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 2-2 free throws. Junior Jessica Bright-Schade added five points and Cluff four.

For the Braves, junior Cheridan Gooday had a team-high 14 points on seven field goals plus 0-2 free throws, junior Heaven Cosen 13 on five field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 2-2 free throws, and Martin 10 on three field goals plus 4-7 free throws. Cutter added three points, junior Aaliyah Haozous and sophomore Shania Cassa two each, and senior Celeste Cassa one.

All-tourney team

Safford senior Analysa Montez, junior Jessica Bright-Schade, and sophomore Mia Carter along with San Carlos juniors Heaven Cosen, Aaliyah Haozous, and Alyssa Martin were selected to the all-tourney team.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Safford senior Deion Abalos battles San Carlos junior Alyssa Martin for rebound position. Abalos netted a game-high 17 points, earned a third M.V.P. award, and became the school’s initial 4-time all-tourney selection. Martin also was named all-tourney and had 10 points for the Braves.

Bulldogs’ senior Deion Abalos was tabbed most valuable player for a third time. She also became Safford’s first player to be named to the all-tournament team four years in a row. 

Abalos averaged 15.7 (47) points per game, Cosen 15.3 (46), Montez 11.7 (35), Martin 11.3 (34), Carter 9.0 (27), and Bright-Shade and Haozous both 8.0 (24).

The rest of the all-tourney team included Fort Thomas senior Normisha Moses and sophomore Kyia Haws; Thatcher senior Brooklynn Angle and junior Taya Baldwin, Pima senior Alia Blair, Willcox junior Tapanga Alexander, Morenci junior Brigid Sylvester, and Duncan senior Payton Damron.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Selected to the 15-member 43rd annual EAC Girls Holiday all-tourney team were, from left, Deon Abalos, Analysa Montez, and Jessica Bright-Shade of Safford; Alani Blair of Pima; Payton Damron of Duncan; Taya Baldwin and Brooklyn Angle of Thatcher; Tapanga Alexander of Willcox; Kyia Haws and Normisha Moses of Fort Thomas; Heaven Cosen, Aaliyah Haozous, and Alyssa Martin of San Carlos. Not pictured are Mia Carter of Safford and Brigid Silvester of Morenci.

Angle averaged 21.0 (63) points per game, Blair 10.3 (31), Baldwin 8.7 (26), Silvester 7.0 (21), Alexander and Moses both 6.3 (19), and Damron and Haws both 5.3 (16).

Four-time selectee Abalos was also co-most valuable player in 2017 and the 2015 M.V.P. as a freshman; three-time selectee Angle was also honored in 2017 and 2016; and Baldwin and Moses also honored in 2017.