Wildcats outlast Bobcats; will face top-seed Pima in region tourney semifinal

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Dominik Waters moves the ball away from Benson senior Talon Palmer during the regular-season finale Feb. 6. Palmer was called for a foul and the Morenci senior made both free throws. The Wildcats prevailed 51-46 in the region contest. Morenci also downed the Bobcats 62-59 in Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium during the region tourney pairing Feb. 11.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – The Wildcats slipped past Benson 62-59 Feb. 11. Thatcher bested Tombstone 62-40 and Bisbee downed Willcox 69-57 in the other region tourney pairings. Morenci will travel to face Pima on Thursday, Feb. 13, starting at 6 p.m., and Thatcher will host Bisbee on Thursday, Feb. 13, starting at 6 p.m., in the semifinals.

The Tommy Navarrete-coached Wildcats defeated a pair of region opponents last week, closing the regular season as the fourth seed for the region tourney.

Morenci slipped past the Yellow Jackets 48-46 in Tombstone on Feb. 4 and the Benson Bobcats 51-46 in Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium on Feb. 6.

The final 2A East Region standings were Pima first with a 12-0 region record, Thatcher second (9-3), Bisbee third (6-6), Morenci fourth (6-6), Benson fifth (5-7), Willcox sixth (3-9), and Tombstone seventh (1-11).

Pima topped each region opponent twice, Benson 34-31 (Dec. 10) and 57-38 (Jan. 17), Morenci 55-44 (Dec. 2) and 52-40 (Jan. 21), Bisbee 81-46 (Dec. 3) and 50-41 (Jan. 24), Tombstone 52-22 (Dec. 20) and 64-34 (Jan. 28), Willcox 69-41 (Jan. 29) and 61-35 (Jan. 31), and Thatcher 47-36 (Jan. 14) and 56-44 (Feb. 6).

Thatcher defeated Bisbee twice, 79-54 (Dec. 10) and 69-53 (Jan. 17); Willcox twice, 59-28 (Dec. 11) and 74-38 (Jan. 24); Morenci 62-39 (Jan. 7); Benson twice, 58-37 (Jan. 9) and 75-57 (Feb. 4); and Tombstone twice, 78-49 (Jan. 21) and 63-33 (Feb. 7).

Benson’s wins were twice over Bisbee, 62-59 (Dec. 13) and 57-45 (Jan. 21); twice over Tombstone, 42-26 (Dec. 17) and 55-37 (Jan. 24); and 58-37 over Willcox (Dec. 20).

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Freshman Derek Saenz drives to the basket for two of his six points against Benson on Feb. 11.

Bisbee topped Willcox twice, 64-31 (Dec. 5) and 72-65 (Feb. 4); Morenci twice, 70-66 (Dec. 20) and 51-45; and Tombstone twice, 74-18 (Jan. 7) and 39-29 (Jan. 31).

Morenci’s wins were 70-40 (Jan. 10) and 50-46 (Feb. 4) over Tombstone, 62-56 (Jan. 14) and 51-46 (Feb. 6) over Benson, 53-47 over Willcox (Jan. 16) and 49-38 over Thatcher (Feb. 1). Willcox bested Morenci 64-59 (Dec. 10), Tombstone 42-37 (Jan. 14) and Benson 55-48 (Jan. 28). Tombstone defeated Willcox 60-42 (Feb. 6).

Rankings coming out of the weekend for region members were Pima No. 6 (16-3 seeding) of 50 2A teams, Thatcher No. 15 (11-7), Bisbee No. 26 (9-9), Morenci No. 27 (8-9), Benson No. 30 (7-10), Willcox No. 38 (3-13), and Tombstone No. 44 (3-15).

Through the 24-game regular season, the Wildcats were outscored by an average of 51-53 (1,111-1,266) per game or by a 2-point deficit. Morenci’s free throw percentage was 64 (192-300) compared to 63 (186-294) for its combined opponents.

Individually, junior Jeremiah Rojas had a percentage of 83 (5-6), junior Maddux Martinez 74 (43-58), freshman Derek Saenz 70 (7-10), senior Dominik Waters 63 (19-30), junior Torman Lang 63 (5-8), junior Steven Shawn Michael Chavez Jr. 62 (43-69), sophomore Christian Mpoyo 60 (49-82), junior Nicolas Hammond 33 (2-6), and both junior Jordan Reyes and freshman Daylen Johnson 0-2 each.

Wildcats – 62, Bobcats – 59

It came down to the closing seconds before the outcome was decided. The game’s final three shot attempts did not connect.

The host Wildcats led 62-59 as a pair of free throws were awarded with nine seconds remaining. Intentional or not, neither one dropped through the net. Had one changed the score, it would have been a two-possession deficit for the visitors.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Maddux Martinez leaps up to block a first-half shot attempt by Benson senior Carson Barney. The Morenci junior totaled 19 points while Barney had 15.

Instead, Benson hauled in the second missed free throw and a race ensued to beat the clock for a 3-point attempt. The attempt would have tied the score and sent the game into overtime. It missed. Game over.

Benson came within a point, 59-60, on a pair of sophomore Devin Bowling free throws with 24 seconds remaining. But a pair of Chavez free throws seven seconds later raised Benson’s deficit to three.

The Bobcats turned the ball over on the inbound pass with 11 seconds left and were forced to foul to stop the clock.

Benson scored a pair of early fourth-period field goals to tie, 47-47 with 1:02 elapsed and took its only lead of the game, 49-47, 25 seconds later. The score was tied twice more during the ensuing 1:14, at 49-49 and 51-51, before Morenci went ahead by six, 57-51 with 2:53 left.

Morenci led 47-45 after three periods, 33-26 at halftime, and 19-15 following the opening period.

Benson trailed 4-0 before scoring with 1:52 elapsed in the game and by as much as 12, 33-21 with 1:00 left in the second period.

The Wildcats made 23 field goals (five 3-pointers) plus 11-20 free throws compared to 20 field goals (seven 3-pointers) plus 11-17 free throws by the Bobcats.

Martinez totaled 19 points on eight field goals plus 3-4 free throws and Mpoyo 11 on five field goals plus 1-2 free throws. Chavez and Waters both added nine points, Hammond eight, and Saenz six.

For the Bobcats, senior Talon Palmer had 19 points on seven field goals (five 3-pointers), senior Carson Barney 15 on six field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 1-1 free throws, and sophomore Devin Bowling 10 on two field goals plus 6-9 free throws. Junior Brandon Emmerich added six points, sophomore Brok Determan three, sophomores Mundo Esparza and Antonio Rigney two each, and senior Diego Nikitas one.

Wildcats – 51, Bobcats – 46

Trailing 37-39 at the start of the fourth period, the home boys outscored their guests 14-7 to secure the region win. Morenci led 30-23 at halftime and 13-12 following the opening period.

A Mpoyo field goal with 2:22 left broke the third tie of the final period and gave the Wildcats the lead for good. Benson pared its deficit to 45-46 12 seconds later on 1-2 Barney free throws, but no closer. The visitors were limited to 1-2 Rigney free throws versus a field goal plus 3-5 free throws by Morenci during the final 1:40.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Christian Mpoyo is sandwiched between Benson junior Brandon Emmerich (22) and senior Talon Palmer (20) during a rebound attempt. The Morenci sophomore had 11 points, Emmerich six and Palmer 19 during the Feb. 11 pairing. Five days earlier, Mpoyo netted six points, Emmerich two and Palmer 15.

The Wildcats connected on 18 field goals (five 3-pointers) plus 10-13 free throws versus 16 field goals (four 3-pointers) plus 10-15 free throws by the Bobcats.

Chavez tallied 14 points on six field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 3-4 free throws and Waters 13 on four field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 2-2 free throws. Martinez added seven points, Mpoyo six, Hammond five, Rojas four, and Reyes two. Mpoyo had six of 28 rebounds and both Reyes and Waters five apiece, and Saenz four of 12 steals plus three of 10 assists.

For Benson, Palmer had 15 points on five field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 2-2 free throws and Barney 11 on four field goals plus 3-5 free throws. Bowling added seven points, Esparza and Rigney four each, Determan three, and Emmerich two.

Wildcats – 50, Yellow Jackets – 48

The visitor’s 2-point, 39-27, three-quarters advantage held up as both teams added 11 fourth quarter points. Tombstone led 25-24 at halftime and the Wildcats led 16-8 after the first quarter.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci junior Jordan Reyes grabbed a first-half defensive rebound and switched to offense, with Benson sophomore Wyatt Wilharm on his heels Feb. 11.

Morenci totaled 22 field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 3-4 free throws compared to 17 field goals (eleven 3-pointers) plus 3-6 free throws by Tombstone.

Martinez tallied 26 points on 12 field goals (two 3-pointers) and Mpoyo 12 on six field goals, Chavez and Waters both added five points, and Saenz two. Mpoyo had 12 of 30 rebounds and Martinez six, Chavez handed out seven of 14 assists; and Saenz and Martinez both made five of 15 steals.

For the Tombstone, junior Sean Kacenga netted 17 points on six field goals (five 3-pointers), and juniors Myan Moreno and Ernest Withers both 11 on four field goals (three 3-pointers) and on four field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 2-4 free throws, respectively. Senior Gustavo Morales added six points and junior Nicolas Campbell three.

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