By Raymundo Frasquillo
THATCHER – The 42nd annual Eastern Arizona Holiday Tournament for girls has the same eight teams attending for a fifth straight year, beginning Thursday, Dec. 14, in Eastern Arizona College’s Guitteau Gymnasium.
Second seed Fort Thomas and seventh seed Willcox open the meet with a 1 p.m. pairing and top seed Safford follows with eighth seed Duncan at 2:30 p.m. in the first session. The second session pits fourth seed New Mexico Cliff with fifth seed Pima at 6:30 p.m. and third seed Thatcher with sixth seed Morenci at 8 p.m.
Day two Friday, Dec. 15, has the Safford vs. Duncan loser meeting the Cliff vs. Pima loser at 1 p.m. and the Fort Thomas vs. Willcox loser meeting the Thatcher vs. Morenci loser at 2:30 p.m. during the consolation round. The championship round has the Cliff – Pima winner against the Safford – Duncan winner at 6:30 p.m. and the Fort Thomas vs. Willcox winner against the Thatcher – Morenci winner at 8 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 16, has the seventh-place game at 1 p.m., the third-place game at 2:30 p.m., the fifth-place game at 6:30 p.m., and the championship game at 8 p.m.
Through games played Tuesday, Dec. 12, Fort Thomas is 8-3 overall, Thatcher 6-6, both Cliff and Safford 4-4, Pima 5-2, Morenci 3-5, and both Duncan and Willcox 1-4.
Last year, Safford jumped out to a 10-point (17-7) opening period advantage, extended the margin to 12 (28-16) at halftime, and held off a late Thatcher rally to earn the 41st Eastern Arizona Holiday Tourney title on Dec. 17.
It was the Bulldogs’ 23rd tourney finale appearance, the 14th title, the third in a row as the second seed, and the fifth win in 10 championship pairings with the Eagles. Thatcher is 12-8 in title games, 0-3 in the most recent four meets as the top seed. The teams have both participated in the each of the previous 40 meets with Safford posting an 86-35 overall record and Thatcher 84-38. The Bulldogs played only two games in the 1998 meet because the seventh-place game was not held.
In what was intended as a litmus test to see where a team was, Safford did not let a prior pairing decide this outcome.
“We pressured the ball, used a full-court press, and made them take hurried shots,” Safford Coach Robert Abalos said. “We had some games against reservation teams that play an up-tempo style. We also learn from what doesn’t work.”
The result was the Eagles seemed unprepared for this type of contest. Safford downed seventh seed Duncan 50-28 in the first round and third seed Fort Thomas 67-44 in the semifinals. Thatcher reached the finale with wins of 61-9 over eighth seed Willcox in the first round and 50-36 over fourth seed Pima in the semifinals.
Fort Thomas defeated Pima, 60-40, for third place, sixth seed Morenci downed fifth seed Cliff, 46-30, for fifth place, and Duncan posted a 44-29 score over Willcox for seventh place.
Advancing in the consolation round were Morenci and Cliff with wins of 50-30 over Duncan and 40-19 over Willcox, respectively.
The other first-round winners were Fort Thomas over Morenci, 65-29, and Pima, 48-37, over Cliff.
Sophomore Deon Abalos and junior Jaylynn Scrivner of Safford along with Thatcher seniors Cammee Nicholas and Danica Rowan plus junior Brooklynn Angle were on the all-tourney team.
Safford senior Crystal Haase was the most valuable player.
The rest of the all-tourney team included Fort Thomas senior Kiara Goseyun and junior Robin Olivar, Pima senior Cherish Reynolds and junior Jessica Sherwood, Morenci senior Aaliyah Manuz, Cliff senior Valerie Overstreet, Duncan senior Cassidy Waters, and Willcox junior Danielle Barba.
Three-time selectee Haase was also the 2014 M.V.P. and two-time selectee Abalos the 2015 M.V.P. Goseyun, Manuz, and Overstreet were also twice honored, in 2015, in 2015, and in 2014, respectively.
The top two seeds have met for the title in three of the most recent four years, second seed Cliff bested top seed Thatcher 40-30 in 2013 and second seed Safford downed top seed Thatcher 35-20 in 2014.
Safford has an 11-1 four-year meet record, Thatcher 8-4, Cliff and Morenci both 7-5, Fort Thomas 6-6, Pima 5-7, Duncan 4-8, and Willcox 0-12.