By Raymundo Frasquillo
The Patrick Hepper-coached Morenci Wildcats will host Glendale Prep in a play-in game at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 11. Two other East Region members, Thatcher and Willcox, entertains Arizona College Prep and is at Gilbert Leading Edge, respectively.
The post-season pairings, as announced by the Arizona Interscholastic Association, have the top 9-16 hosting numbers 17-24, as determined by a final check Wednesday night, which factored in the automatic qualifiers. The eight automatic qualifiers won’t play until the state tournament’s first round.
Other pairings have Scottsdale Prep at Tucson Saint Augustine Catholic, Saint Johns at Phoenix Horizon Honors, Phoenix Country Day at Eloy Santa Cruz, Flagstaff Northland Prep at Pinon and Sedona Red Rock at Trivium Preparatory Academy.
The state tournament bracket pairings will be announced Sunday, Feb. 12, with the Top 16 teams seeded according to overall rankings. The eight automatic qualifiers plus the eight play-in winners will make up the 16-team field, with the first round of a four-round meet tipping off Friday, Feb. 17 in the Prescott area. The final is Feb. 25 at the Prescott Valley Events Center.
Morenci finished .500 for its final 10 games of the regular season, topping the New Mexico Bayard Cobre Indians, 59-51, Jan. 28 and falling 53-38 to the Thatcher Eagles in region play Jan. 31, both on the road.
Results of the region contests during the final regular season week were wins for Pima (80-28 over Tombstone) and Benson (75-73 over Bisbee) on Jan. 31; Willcox (70-47 over Tombstone) on Feb. 1; Pima (87-42 over Benson) on Feb. 2; and Thatcher (57-41 over Willcox) on Feb. 3.
Morenci had a different starting line-up in its final two games, two seniors, a junior, and a sophomore as opposed to three seniors and two sophomores in the season opener.
The Wildcats totaled 1,281-1,265 points for 26 season games and 590-583 for 12 region games, averaging a 49.2-48.6 score or six tenths of a point margin for both.
Morenci (8-4 region for 3rd, 16-10 overall, 11-7 power ranking) ended the regular season 6-2 at home, 5-5 on the road, and 5-3 on neutral courts.
Records of the other 2A East Region members were as follows, Pima (12-0 for 1st, 25-2, 18-0), Thatcher (9-3 for 2nd, 18-8, 13-5), Willcox (6-6 for 4th, 13-11, 9-8), Bisbee (4-8 for 5th, 10-14-1, 6-11), Benson (2-10 for 6th, 2-23, 1-16), and Tombstone (1-11 for 7th, 3-21, 1-16).
Morenci at Thatcher
Morenci posted a 76-65 home win on Jan. 6, but it was a different outcome in the second meeting 25 days later.
“We expected a tougher game in Thatcher,” Coach Hepper said. “We missed a lot (more) lay-ups and free throws than we normally do.”
Tenth-ranked Morenci got within a point, 9-10, with three minutes left in the opening period, but never led or tied. An 8-point deficit, 12-20, ensued in the second period with 5:20 left, and twice in the third period, 20-28 with 7:08 and 27-35 with 59 seconds left, but a pair of Thatcher 3-pointers erased both. The closest the Wildcats got in the final period was 12, 38-50, with 40 seconds remaining.
Thatcher scored the games’ initial basket during the opening 45 seconds and never trailed for the rest of the game. The second-ranked Eagles led by nine points, 18-9, following the opening period; by 11, 28-17 at halftime; and by 11, 38-27, after three periods. The largest advantage was 18 points, 46-28, after connecting on a pair of 3-pointers plus a 2-point basket verses 1-2 free throws for Morenci, during the first three minutes of the fourth period.
The Eagles maintained their intensity and spacing and took advantage of skip passes to get defenders out of position for inside high-percentage shots throughout the contest.
On the night, sophomore John Olmsted netted 12 points on five field goals plus 2-6 free throws. Sophomore Jordan Leonard added seven points, senior Edward Castellano six, junior Chris Leonard and senior Ruben Little both five and senior Andres Nofchissey three.
For Thatcher, seniors Carson Goodman and Dallin Cook contributed double-digit scoring, with 19 and 12 points, respectively. Goodman totaled six field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 4-7 free throws while Cook made four field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 2-4 free throws. Senior Logan McMaster added eight points, sophomore Cole Motes seven, junior Tyler Roebuck four and junior Trent Ferrin three.
Morenci at Cobre
The Wildcats overcame a 12-point first-half outing and deficit, by returning for a 47-27 second-half effort and an 8-point ‘Land of Enchantment’ win, 59-51.
Morenci’s comeback was fueled by four Wildcats. Olmsted contributed 10 points, Castellano six, Jordan Leonard six and Little two in the third period. Olmsted added 11 points, Little seven, Castellano three and Jordan Leonard two in the fourth period.
The host Indians led 17-8 following the initial period, 24-12 at halftime, and 38-36 heading into the final period.
For the game, Morenci totaled 23 field goals (eight 3-pointers) plus 5-9 free throws compared to 19 field goals (six 3-pointers) plus 6-15 free throws for Cobre.
Olmsted tallied 21 points on 10 field goals plus 1-3 free throws and Jordan Leonard 13 on four field goals (three 3-pointers) plus 2-2 free throws. Castellano added nine points, Little nine, David Corona five and Matt Silvester two.
Cobre was led by Gilbert Soto with 20 points on eight field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 2-4 free throws and Felix Dominguez with 12 on five field goals plus 2-3 free throws. Glen Montoya added seven points, Gabe Ortiz four, Dale Lee three, Joe Gallaido and Gabe Pedraza both two and Tyler Leland one.