Wildcats pull away from Pumas, edge Eagles in region play

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher students back the Eagles during the region opener with Morenci. The visiting Wildcats left with a 59-56 win.

By Raymundo Frasquillo

MORENCI – The Patrick Hepper-coached Morenci Wildcats pulled away from the visiting Bisbee Pumas 70-50 in Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium on Dec. 1, a day after slipping past the Thatcher Eagles 59-56 in Thatcher on Nov. 30. The two games were in region play.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci senior Matthew Silvester zeros in on a second of two free throws awarded with 1:34 remaining against Bisbee Dec. 1. He ended making 3-4 as the Wildcats totaled 25-33 from the line during the 70-50 region win.

Through the weekend, the 2A East Region standings were Morenci (5-2 overall, 3-0 seeding, 2-0 region), Pima (2-1, 2-1, 1-0), Bisbee (3-4, 1-2, 1-2), Tombstone (1-1, 1-1, 0-0), Willcox (1-2, 1-2, 0-0), Thatcher (0-2, 0-2, 0-1 region), and Benson (3-3, 0-2, 0-1).

Morenci began its second week of competition by doubling the score on the 1A East Region Ray Bearcats (4-3, 2-1, 0-0 region) 62-31 in Kearny Nov. 27.

The Wildcats opened the season with a 2-2 record in the two-day Chandler Valley Christian Invitational on Nov. 23.  Morenci left Maricopa County with wins of 76-47 over 4A Bullhead City Mohave (2-6, 1-3, 0-1 Grand Canyon Region) and 66-51 over 3A Phoenix Horizon Honors (2-3-1, 1-1, 0-9 Metro West Region) along with losses of 63-49 to 3A Tucson Sabino (5-9, 1-0, 0-0 South Region) and 75-65 to 2A Globe (6-2, 3-1, 0-0 South Region).

Morenci hosts the Willcox Cowboys in a region contest Tuesday, Dec. 4.

Wildcats – 70, Pumas – 50

The Wildcats tipped the ball where they wanted, but the Pumas controlled it to start the game. Bisbee missed three shots and Morenci four before senior John Olmsted rebounded and put it in with 1:13 elapsed in the game.

Bisbee made four of its next eight shot attempts, compared with 1-5 by Morenci, for a 14-5 advantage. Another Olmsted put back narrowed the deficit to seven points.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Morenci senior Jordan Leonard made 9-10 free throws while scoring a game-high 24 points in Thatcher. The Wildcats made 18-21 free throws and won 59-56. Morenci hosts Willcox in region play Tuesday, Dec. 4.

Morenci trailed 16-13 following the opening period and it would be another 2:25 when an Olmsted 3-pointer gave the Wildcats the lead for good, 20-19, with 5:35 left in the half.

A 7-point, 34-27, margin at halftime remained at the start of the fourth period, 51-44, as both teams added 17 third period points.

Morenci pulled away during the first 32 seconds of the final period, taking a 55-44 lead, that was matched 1:19 later, 57-46. Bisbee got no closer thereafter and Morenci led by 21, 67-46, with 1:34 remaining.

The Wildcats totaled 20 field goals (5 3-pointers) plus 23-33 free throws versus 17 field goals (9 3-pointers) plus 5-7 free throws by the Pumas.

Olmsted netted 21 points on eight field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 4-6 free throws, senior Jordan Leonard 15 on three 3-pointers plus 6-7 free throws, and freshman Christian Mutengela 11 on one field goal plus 9-10 free throws. Sophomore Maddux Martinez added 8 points, sophomore Steven Shawn Michael Chavez Jr. 7, senior Ryan Hayes 5, and senior Matthew Silvester 3.

Bisbee got 24 points from senior Eduardo Vasquez on eight field goals (7 3-pointers) plus 1-2 free throws. Junior David Ballesteros added 8 points, senior Francisco Urcadez 7, junior Luke Hammett 5, and both seniors Juan Avechuco and Julio Urrea 2 apiece.

Wildcats – 59, Eagles – 56

Morenci went with “a man defense, pressured the ball, and did not allow a 3-point field goal during the final 15 seconds. Ryan (Hayes) did a good job on defense,” Hepper said. “He pressured the ball at the top of the key.”

The result, the 59-56 advantage held up for the initial win in Thatcher under the fifth-year head coach. It was a surprising finish to what started out as a lop-sided game.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Senior big men challenge – Morenci’s John Olmsted challenges Thatcher big man Cole Motes throughout the contest. Both players made 3-5 free throws, but Motes connected on nine field goals, including three dunks, for 21 points compared to Olmsted’s five for 15 points. However, Morenci prevailed 59-56 during the 2A East Region contest in Thatcher on Nov. 30.

Morenci jumped out to a 19-point, 21-2, advantage before Thatcher senior Matthew Palmer added the Eagles’ second basket with 2:22 left in the opening period. Another two Eagles’ baskets, a Rulon White 3-pointer and a Palmer two narrowed the margin to 12 points, 21-9 at the end of the period.

Palmer added a 3-pointer for a 9-point deficit 50 seconds into the second period, but an Olmsted 3-pointer and Leonard basket in the ensuing 1:14 extended the margin back to double figures, 26-12. Morenci led 37-10 at halftime.

Thatcher outscored Morenci 20-6 in the third period, including three uncontested dunks by senior Cole Motes, to trail 43-40 heading into the final eight minutes. The Eagles tied the score at 50-50 with 3:44 remaining and came within one twice, 51-52 with 2:51 and 56-57 with 21 seconds left.

Morenci tallied 17 field goals (seven 3-pointers) plus 18-21 free throws compared to 21 field goals (eight 3-pointers) plus 6-9 free throws by Thatcher.

Leonard contributed a season-high 24 points on six field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 9-10 free throws, Olmsted 15 on five field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 3-5 free throws, and Hayes 12 on three field goals plus 6-6 free throws. Chavez added 5 points and Martinez 2.

For Thatcher, Motes totaled 21 points on nine field goals plus 3-5 free throws, junior Kason Crosby 15 on five 3-pointers, and White 12 on four field goals (1 3-pointer) plus 3-4 free throws. Palmer added 8 points.

Wildcats – 62, Bearcats – 31

The Wildcats managed double-digit scoring in each period compared to two by the host Bearcats. Morenci’s advantage was 15-5 following the initial period, 31-17 at halftime, and 47-26 heading into the final period.

Raymundo Frasquillo Photo/Gila Herald: Thatcher head coach Chris Riehemann watches the Eagles from in front of the bench.

Scoring was on 22 field goals (1 3-pointer) plus 17-23 free throws by the Wildcats and 10 field goals plus 9-14 free throws by the Bearcats.

Olmsted netted a season-high 32 points on 10 field goals plus 12-14 free throws. Hayes added 9 points, Leonard 8, Chavez 6, Martinez 5, and Mutelengo 2.

For the Bearcats, Jaden Pace had 10 points on three field goals plus 4-4 free throws. Guillermo Ortega added 9 points, Shane Patterson 7, E.J. Baca and Alex Bravo 2 apiece and Romeo Varley 1.

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