By Raymundo Frasquillo
Morenci got back in the win column with a 52-34 East Region triumph over the Tombstone Yellow Jackets in Wildcat Memorial Gymnasium on Jan. 27.
The visiting Willcox Cowboys slipped past Morenci, 49-48, Jan. 24, and the Wildcats left the ‘town too tough to die’ with a 62-30 win Jan. 21, both in 2A East Region pairings.
Tenth ranked Morenci (16-8 overall, 8-3 region, 10-6 power ranking, 5.1025 rating) closes its regular season at No. 2 Thatcher (16-8, 8-2, 11-5, 6.5598) on Tuesday for its final region contest. The Wildcats are 5-4 on the road, but both teams are 6-2 at home, with Morenci topping Thatcher 76-65 (Jan. 6).
The Wildcats are averaging a 49-48 (1,184-1,161) score per game or a 1-point margin for 24 games and a 50-48 (552-530) score or 2-point margin for 11 region games.
Meanwhile, the Eagles have a 58-47 (1,385-1,118) average score per game or an 11-point margin for 24 games and a 60-42 (600-415) average score or an 18-point margin for 10 region games.
The rest of the region contests during the final regular season week are No. 1 Pima (16-0 power ranking, 21.7480 rating) at No. 47 Tombstone (1-14, minus 15.1215) and No. 29 Bisbee (6-9, minus 2.8285) at No. 46 Benson (1-15, minus 14.4857) on Tuesday (Jan. 31); Tombstone at No. 18 Willcox (8-7, 0.7834) on Wednesday (Feb. 1); Pima at Benson on Thursday (Feb. 2) and Willcox at Thatcher on Friday (Feb. 3).
Morenci vs. Tombstone
The Wildcats controlled the opening tip, but it was nearly a minute-and-a-half into the contest before either team scored. An Andres Nofchissey steal and assist to Jordan Leonard on a fast break accounted for the initial layup. Morenci never trailed in the game and led by 22, 50-28, with 3:10 remaining.
There was 3:43 left in the opening period when the visitors lit up their side of the scoreboard after trailing 7-0. It would be almost two minutes later before they added a second basket, still trailing by seven, 11-4. Morenci went on an 8-3 run to begin the second period with a 19-7 advantage. Five Wildcats accounted for the early advantage. John Olmsted had seven points, David Corona five, Jordan Leonard three and both Edward Castellano and Ruben Little two each.
Seven second period points were added by both teams and the halftime score was 26-14. Morenci led by 15, 40-25, to begin the fourth period.
The Wildcats totaled 19 field goals (five 3-pointers) plus 9-16 free throws compared to 13 field goals (five 3-pointers) plus 4-6 free throws for Tombstone.
Olmsted netted 17 points on six field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 4-8 free throws and Castellano 11 on five field goals (one 3-pointer). Jordan Leonard added eight points, Little six and both Corona and Nofchissey had five.
Maxzell Blackwell led the Yellow Jackets with 11 points on five field goals (one 3-pointer). Joey Melton added eight points, Joey Schaub six, Anthony Duran three, Oscar Alamilla and Jonathan Windom two apiece and both Louie Aviles and Jon Michael Bulow one each.
Morenci vs. Willcox
Willcox senior Landon DeBaun scored the winning basket after being the second man around a double screen on an inbounds play with less than 19 seconds remaining. The basket capped a 9-1 run in the closing minute-and-a-half and an 18-12 fourth period outing for the Cowboys.
“If you play the game long enough, you will win some close ones and lose some close ones,” Morenci head coach Patrick Hepper said following a loss in Tucson days earlier. He also has said all season long, “We can only control attitude and intensity.”
Hepper was at a loss for words following the team’s locker room gathering after the game. The expressions on the players’ faces as the final buzzer sounded said they understood what they had not done.
The Wildcats were ranked eighth of 50 2A teams with a 6.5548 rating while the Cowboys (11-10, 4-5) were 21st with a minus 0.8352 rating prior to the contest. The Wildcats had posted a 67-59 win in Willcox on Dec. 6, 2016. Don’t underestimate your opponent and do your best all the time is what the Wildcats should take from the game.
Morenci led by five points, 36-31, at the start of the fourth period and by seven, 47-40, with 1:45 to go, yet trailed by a point with seven seconds left. A time out allowed a play to be set up, but the clock wound down before the rebounded missed shot attempt could be put up again.
The score was tied four times, once at the start of the second period, 14-14, with nearly two minutes elapsed and three times, 22-22 with 6:39, 24-24 with 4:42, and 27-27 with 2:28 left, in the third period.
Willcox led by nine, 12-3, with 6:40 elapsed in the game. Morenci countered with an 8-point, 45-37, advantage during the rest of the game.
The Cowboys’ lead was four, 12-8, at the start of the second period, and one in both the third and fourth periods, 28-27 with 2:26 left in the third and 49-48 with seven seconds left in the fourth.
Morenci’s advantages were by three points twice, 18-15 with 3:42 and 20-17 with 1:52 left, in the second period; by six, 34-28 with 1:04 left in the third period and by seven, 47-40, with 1:44 left in the fourth period.
The Wildcats totaled 19 field goals (six 3-pointers) plus 4-6 free throws compared to 18 field goals (five 3-pointers) plus 8-21 free throws for Willcox.
Chris Leonard paced the Wildcats’ scorers with 13 points on five field goals (three 3-pointers). Jordan Leonard added nine points, Nofchissey seven, Olmsted five, Castellano, Corona, and Kyle Swan four apiece and Little two.
Willcox got 20 points from DeBaun on eight field goals (two 3-pointers) plus 2-6 free throws, 13 from Kage Norris on six field goals plus 1-5 free throws and 10 from Alex Torres on three 3-pointers plus 1-2 free throws. Andrew Gallagher and Ely Madrid added two apiece and both Trevor Long and Austin Stambeck had one each.
Morenci at Tombstone
Morenci left the ‘town to tough to die’ with a 62-30 region win Jan. 21. The Wildcats led 17-5 following the opening period, 34-8 at halftime, and 47-20 heading into the final period.
The entire 11-man squad broke into the scoring column with Jordan Leonard netting 15 points on five field goals (four 3-pointers) plus 1-2 free throws, Chris Leonard 11 on four field goals (three 3-pointers) and Olmsted 10 on three field goals (one 3-pointer) plus 3-4 free throws. Swan and Dominic Waters added five points apiece, Little four, Corona and Matt Silvester three each and Castellano, Mario Esquivel, and Nofchissey two apiece.
Tyler Cepero led the Yellow Jackets with 10 points on four field goals (two 3-pointers). Aviles added nine points, Schaub seven and Melton and Nathan Snider had two apiece.