As the games become fewer, their importance becomes greater.
The No. 15-ranked Mingus Union High School’s boys basketball team has emerged as one of three contenders for the Grand Canyon Region title. It defeated sixth-place Mohave High School 56-47 at home on Thursday, Jan. 25, but losing 50-44 at first place Coconino High School [15-2, 10-1 Grand Canyon] on Friday, Jan. 26, eliminated its chance at winning the region.
Nonetheless, the focus remains unchanged.
“We’re treating this like playoff games more or less. Our goal at the beginning of the season was to make state. Technically that’s a lock, but we’re in a pretty good spot for that right now,” Marauders head coach Dave Beery said. “But we don’t want to be satisfied with just making state, let’s get a better seed if we can.
“...We’re taking it one game at a time but we want to finish with some momentum, strong, and we’ve had a good January so we want to keep that rolling.”
The Marauders [11-5, 7-3 Grand Canyon] also beat last place Bradshaw Mountain High School [1-14, 0-10] 58-28 on Jan. 23. Mingus has won six of eight this month and nine of their last 11 overall.
On Thursday against the Thunderbirds [6-10, 2-8], Mingus controlled from start to finish, only trailing twice at 2-0 and 5-4. The second deficit came on a putback from Mohave senior forward Tommy McGuire; the visitors were winning the battle on the glass early on.
Mingus senior forward Alex Figy scored his team’s first three buckets on three assists from senior guard Martin Soria, and the lead grew to 17-7 by the end of the first quarter. Mohave reduced its deficit to single digits for most of the game until the fourth quarter, led by a team-high 21 points from its senior guard Joe Heath, the reigning region player of the year. Heath shot eight of 14 from the foul line, getting six tries effortlessly through three Marauders technical fouls.
But the Marauders were in control from start to finish. Typically playing a fast-paced game, they worked the ball more methodically in the half court, especially after the 66-52 loss to first place Coconino High School on Jan. 20. Beery felt his team tried to go one-on-one too much in the loss, and adjustments have been made since.
In the end, it was defense that slowed the Thunderbirds’ roll when momentum swung their way.
“Offensively we had stretches where we were pretty good. We were actually a little more patient and ran offense a little more than we have been, which has kind of been our emphasis the last week or so,” Beery said. “Overall I thought defense was the reason we won the game. We weren’t hitting a lot of shots even though I thought we were getting pretty good looks for the most part. We had too many turnovers again, so we had to get stops and I thought we did a pretty good job of getting stops when we needed them.”
Mingus junior guard Chaz Taylor had a game-high 22 points.
Girls See Out Win
The girls team played a more tightly contested game against Mohave, prevailing 51-41. Trailing 11-9 after the first, the Marauders [6-9, 3-7] outscored the Thunderbirds [3-12, 0-10] 14-9 in the second to go up 23-20 at halftime.
Senior forward Nikki Zielinski scored 11 of those points en route to a team-high 17 total. Junior forward Darien Loring then got the hot shooting hand in the second half, finishing with 15 points. Mingus head coach Frank Nevarez credited many of his players for contributions in various areas of the floor.
“I thought the girls played with passion, they played smart, they adjusted well after the first half. We really ran the plays like we should,” Nevarez said. “I loved their intensity, and they just played hard. They played well tonight.”
Mingus never led by more than nine, and Mohave pulled to within two in the fourth quarter behind a bucket from senior forward Selena Ramirez. Zielinski intercepted a pass intended for Ramirez the following possession and hit junior guard Sarah Williams on a long outlet for a fast break bucket to make it 45-41. The Marauders hit their free throws to ice the game.
“We’re learning how to win. I think in the past we would have allowed ourselves to get rattled, not think, throw the ball away,” Nevarez said. “Now we’re thinking more were taking care of the ball and we’re learning how to win and that’s the bottom line.”
They pushed No. 5 Coconino High School [15-2, 10-1] in a 44-35 loss on Friday, Jan. 26.