By Jon Johnson
THATCHER – With an invite to the state basketball tournament on the line, the Thatcher Eagles (19-8 overall, 9-3 region) took care of business on its home floor Saturday and sent the Chandler Arizona College Prep Knights (14-14 overall, 5-7 region) packing, 55-39, ending the Knights’ season.
“I’m proud of the boys,” Thatcher head coach Chris Cook said. “We’re just trying to get better defensively. We held them to 39, and I’m really, really, really pleased with that.”
The Knights played a tough, full-court trapping defense for most of the game, but the Eagles rose above and only committed a couple of turnovers off the press. Instead, Thatcher broke the press and found open looks against the transition defense.
Thatcher’s Dallin Cook led all scorers on the night with 14 points, followed by teammates Logan McMaster with 13 and Cole Motes with 10.
Trevor Booth led Arizona College Prep with 12 points, followed by teammates Ethan Reynolds with 7 and Habi Ortiz and Austin Hendrix, who both scored 6 each.
Thatcher opened up the scoring with two quick close-shot buckets by Tyler Roebuck and Carson Goodman. The Eagles were firing on all pistons early on as a nice hook by Cole Motes and a couple of 3’s by Logan McMaster and Goodman put them up 17-8 in the first. The Eagles would lead 19-11 after one period of play. The Knights defense stuck to Goodman the rest of the game, however, and Thatcher’s deep-play man was held scoreless except for a couple of free throws after the game was all but over.
Thatcher eventually pushed its lead to 15, up 32-17 late in the second period as Goodman stole the ball and found McMaster in the front court for an easy layup. McMaster said the game was closer than the final score showed.
“(They are) a great team,” McMaster said. (They’re) very athletic (and) well-coached.”
The Knights put in a number of points off turnovers as well, and a bounce pass from Jack MacArthur to Ethan Reynolds set him up for a layup near the end of the period. Thatcher still went into halftime with a comfortable 11-point lead, however, 32-21.
The parents and fans who made the trip from Chandler to cheer on their team never faltered, and the Knights came out of halftime looking for redemption. Their stifling defense held Thatcher to just two field goals and five points in the third period, but the Knights had trouble scoring as well and had eight, cutting Thatcher’s lead to eight, 37-29. A big momentum-shifting play occurred when Thatcher’s Dallin Cook appeared to have a breakaway layup but suddenly ACP’s 6’4 senior forward Reynolds rose above the rim to send it back off the backboard.
After back-to-back 3’s by Austin Hendrix and Trevor Booth, Thatcher’s lead dwindled to just four points, 41-37, with about three minutes to go, and the visitor’s crowd was frenzied with excitement.
However, the Eagles clamped down defensively and didn’t allow the Knights to score another field goal for the rest of the game. Thatcher didn’t have that problem and went down low to Motes for a couple of big buckets, and McMaster broke the full-court press to hammer the nail in the coffin. Thatcher then secured the win by hitting 8-10 free throws down the home stretch.
“We were able to kind of claw our way back into it . . . but credit to Thatcher, they’re a really fundamental, solid basketball team,” Arizona College Prep head coach Mark Martinez said. “I was hoping that we could kind of knock down one of those shots or make one of those layups or free throws to help us close that gap. I wish Thatcher the best of luck moving forward, and I’m proud of the way our team battled tonight.”
On Sunday morning, Thatcher was given the No. 7 seed and will open its state tournament play against the No. 10-seed Pinon Eagles (18-15 overall, 9-3 region) of the 2A North at Bradshaw Mountain High School in Prescott on Feb. 17 at 3 p.m.
“We’re playing hard; we’re doing the right things,” Cook said. “We just (have) to try to defend without fouling. I’m proud of them. I’m glad we got a chance to go to Prescott. It should be fun.”
If Thatcher gets by Pinon, it will likely face a tough second-round game against the No. 2-seed Alchesay Falcons (30-2 overall, 12-0 region, 13-0 conference).
In other state basketball tournament news:
The Morenci Wildcats’ (16-11 overall, 8-4 region) playoff hopes were dashed Friday night as they lost a heartbreaker to the Glendale Prep Griffins (17-8 overall, 5-3 region), 52-50.
The Pima Roughriders (25-2 overall, 12-0 region, 15-0 conference) are the No. 1 overall seed and will open tournament play against the No.16-seed Kingman Academy Tigers (12-7 overall, 9-1 region) at Yavapai Community College in Prescott on Feb. 17 at 4:30 p.m.
The Roughriders have a potential semifinal matchup with either the No.-5 seed Gilbert Christian Knights (21-5 overall, 11-1 region, 13-1 conference) or the No.-4 seed Scottsdale Christian Eagles (16-8 overall, 10-0 region, 12-2 conference).
Pima eked out a 57-56 victory at Scottsdale on Jan. 18 after coming back from eight points down in the game’s final minutes. Scottsdale Christian lost both its matchups against Gilbert Christian this year.
The bottom half of the bracket features a couple of tough reservation teams in the No.3-seed San Carlos Braves (19-3 overall, 10-0 region, 13-2 conference) and the No. 2-seed Alchesay Falcons (30-2 overall, 12-0 region, 13-0 conference). San Carlos, last year’s 2A State Champion, lost earlier this year to Pima, 59-55, on Nov. 30 and to Alchesay, 75-72, on Jan. 28.
In 1A tournament news:
The Fort Thomas Apaches (18-11 overall, 6-1 region) were given a No. 3 seed and will open tournament play against the No. 14-seed Superior Panthers (13-12 overall, 4-3 region) at Bradshaw Mountain High School in Prescott on Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. The Apaches recently beat the Panthers, 57-52, on Feb. 7 in the 1-A East Regional Basketball Tournament.
3A State Tournament
The No. 8-seed Safford Bulldogs (19-6 overall, 10-0 region, 11-3 conference) will play the winner of the No. 9-seed Window Rock Fighting Scouts (15-10 overall, 5-5 region, 9-6 conference) versus the No.-24 seed Northwest Christian Crusaders (14-14 overall, 6-4 region, 9-8 conference) game to be held at Window Rock High School on Feb. 14. Safford, which is riding a 10-game winning streak, will play Feb. 17 at a yet-to-be-determined time and place in Prescott. Safford previously beat Window Rock, 76-69, on Jan. 7.
2A State Tournament
The Thatcher Eagles (25-2 overall, 12-0 region) are the No. 1 overall seed and will open tournament play against the No. 16-seed Round Valley Elks (14-15 overall, 5-7 region) at Bradshaw Mountain High School in Prescott on Feb. 17 at 12 p.m.
1A State Tournament
The Fort Thomas Apaches (26-2 overall, 5-0 region, 16-0 conference) are the No. 1 overall seed and will open tournament play against the No. 16-seed Fredonia Lynx (9-6 overall, 4-4 region, 7-5 conference) at Bradshaw Mountain High School in Prescott on Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m.
The No. 14-seed Duncan Wildkats (9-8 overall, 3-2 region, 8-4 conference) will open tournament play against the No. 3-seed The Gregory School Hawks (19-7 overall, 7-1 region, 9-2 conference) at the Prescott Valley Events Center on Feb. 17 at 9 a.m.