Thatcher Eagles knock off Pima Roughriders

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Rulon Motes slam dunks the ball and Pima’s hope at a comeback late in the fourth period of Thatcher’s 61-50 victory Tuesday night.

By Jon Johnson

THATCHER – The stakes were high, the crowd noise deafening, and in such a playoff-like atmosphere, Rulon White and the Thatcher Eagles soared above the rim and slammed home a victory over the Pima Roughriders on Tuesday night. 

White’s dunk off a steal and assist by Kason Crosby with about a minute left in the game sealed the victory for Thatcher, 60-51.

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Alec Judd heads to the rim for two of his 15 points on the night.

“We made some poor decisions, and that allowed them to get their fast break going,” said Pima head coach Cliff Thompson. “They didn’t kill us from the 3-point line, they killed us making layups in the second half. I feel like our defense was good all game when we were set and ready to play defense. But, (in) the second half, some decisions we made allowed them to get out and run and that’s what they’re good at.” 

While it was a close contest back and forth for most of the game, Pima got the better of Thatcher in the first half, jumping out to a 6-2 lead early on behind good guard play by Tim Salyer and Alec Judd, who finished with 10 and 15 points on the night, respectively.

Crosby and White kept it close, however, with Crosby hitting a transition 3-pointer off a rebound and quick outlet from Cole Motes and White scoring in the paint. 

Judd came back with a tough layup of his own and then blocked Crosby’s shot, which led to a fast-break score for Dawson Pruszynski. And when Salyer hit his 3-point attempt, Pima took an 11-7 lead at the end of the first period. 

Salyer was big time in the second period as well, hitting Levi Thygerson on two nice assist plays, the second being a three/quarter court pass. 

Crosby kept Thatcher in it, however, scoring on a coast-to-coast layup after a steal and hitting from deep. 

Still, Pima was up 27-20 at the halftime break. 

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Kason Crosby gets to the bucket.

Thatcher owned the third period, however, as White scored 10 of his 20 points on the night and Motes hit six of his 10 overall points to help the Eagles outscore the Roughriders by 11, 20-9. Both players had their inside-out game going on and Motes’ stroke hitting deep jumpers was like a hot knife through butter. 

Most of Motes’ points came in the half-court offense, while White mixed it up and had equal set offense points and fast-break points, which the Eagles do in spades. Even off a made shot, Thatcher pushes the ball back down the court so quickly an opponent rarely has time to give each other a high-five on a well-done play before having to defend their basket.  

Jon Johnson Photo/Gila Herald: Kason Crosby attempts a circus shot against the Pima defense. Crosby burned the Roughriders for a game-high 23 points.

Crosby, who finished with a game-high 23 points, did damage all game but saved his most for the last period, hitting 11 points to help keep Pima’s rally at bay. Whether hitting from deep or attacking the basket, it was Crosby’s night. 

“My coach is always on me for not attacking as much, so I thought it would be a good game to do it,” Crosby said. 

His steal and assist opened up White for his crowd-pleasing dunk that sealed the Roughriders’ fate on the night.

“It’s been a dream of mine always to dunk on Pima especially,” White said. “I don’t know why. That was just a good thing for me.” 

Cliff Thompson said no matter who finishes atop the region, the playoffs will be a dangerous place for those battling teams from Graham and Greenlee counties. 

“I wouldn’t want to have to play us (in the) first round of the state playoffs,” Cliff Thompson said. “We’ve got two really good teams in our region, Morenci and Thatcher, and we’ve got each of them one more time. We’ll do the best we can and, hopefully, we can come away with a couple of wins. But I feel like we’ve got three of the best teams in 2A right here in our region. 

The state rankings as of Friday, Jan. 11 listed Morenci at No. 2, Thatcher at No. 5 and Pima at No. 12. Scottsdale Christian, which beat Pima 61-54 on Dec. 1, is ranked No. 1.

“I think we’ll keep moving up as the season goes on and we’ll see how the bracket turns out, but, like I said, we’re mainly just trying to get into a position to play the best we can at the end of the season,” Cliff Thompson said.

Video By Jon Johnson/Gila Herald

Pima will next host The Gregory School Hawks on Thursday, starting at 7 p.m. and has circled their calendars for their date with Morenci at The Hill on Jan. 15. 

Thatcher will next host the Bisbee Pumas on Friday, starting at 7 p.m. The Eagles won’t face regional top-seed Morenci until Jan. 25. 

In other prep action: 

Morenci (11-5 overall, 6-0 region) destroyed the Benson Bobcats, 58-17. Morenci will next travel to Willcox to take on the Cowboys on Friday, starting at 7 p.m. 

The Safford Bulldogs (11-4 overall, 1-0 region) won their region-opening game against the Tucson Tanque Verde Hawks, 61-50. Safford will next host the Tucson Catalina Trojans on Friday, starting at 7 p.m. 

The Fort Thomas Apaches (13-6 overall, 2-0 region) beat the Duncan Wildkats (6-6 overall, 1-2 region) 70-52. Fort Thomas will next travel to take on the Cibecue Wildcats on Friday, starting at 7 p.m., while Duncan will next travel to take on the Arete Prep Chargers on Friday, starting at 7 p.m.