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boys’ basketball

MHS Rams build a lead against Willow Canyon.

The Maricopa High School boys’ basketball team carries a 5-3 record into tonight’s match-up with Casa Grande.

The Rams are coming of a four-game home stand, which they split. They defeated Campo Verde and Willow Canyon but lost to Poston Butte and Mountain View Marana.

Maricopa has made an impact with their fitness, wearing down opponents late in the game. Head coach Tony Fuller credited the ongoing training of the team members, many of whom excel in football, track and other sports.

“That’s something we have to do, run them as much as we can and get them tired,” he said. “We trying to be the best-conditioned team in Arizona; that’s our goal.”

That helped the Rams nearly pull off a miracle comeback Friday against Mountain View. Though Maricopa took an early lead, the Mountain Lions built a 17-point lead in the second quarter. But the Rams adjusted their effort against the taller, deeper, more exhausted team and worked all the way back to within three points in the final seconds before the 62-57 loss.

“They felt like they lost an opportunity, that maybe if they played that way for the entire 32 minutes, we might have won the game,” Fuller said. “So it was a lesson.”

Hosting Willow Canyon on Tuesday, the Rams won 83-67. It was Maricopa’s highest point total of the season.

“I just wanted us to come out a play hard,” Fuller said. “I thought we played a good second half last game, but sometimes we lose focus.”

The Wildcats could do little to stop Maricopa senior Josh Johnson, who stacked up 45 points. Twenty-seven of those came in the first half. He hit seven 3-pointers, including one from near mid-court at the halftime buzzer. Johnson also had nine rebounds, five steals and five assists.

Junior Jelani Elliott scored 10 points and had three rebounds, three assists and a blocked shot. Senior El Jones scored eight points. Senior Longman Pyne had nine rebounds, three assists and a steal to go with his two points.

Tonight’s game starts at 7 p.m. in Casa Grande, where the Cougars are 0-6. The Rams return home Friday to host region rival Ironwood.

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Senior Josh Johnson (1) is pursued down-court by Campo Verde on Friday. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa High School boys’ basketball started the season 4-1 after defeating Campo Verde, 71-50, Friday. Though the Coyotes took an early lead, the Rams’ tenacious style of play proved unstoppable in front of the home crowd.

Senior guard Josh Johnson scored 33 points and had five rebounds and five steals. Junior Jelani Elliott scored 15 points and had nine rebounds and three steals. Senior El Jones had 10 points and seven rebounds. The Rams continue their home stand through the next three games, hosting Poston Butte Tuesday, Mountain View Marana Friday and Willow Canyon Dec. 12.

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Coach Tony Fuller talks about this year's team.

With a team that is shorter in stature than last year, MHS boys’ basketball will face a difficult schedule, head coach Tony Fuller said.

“Twin Towers” Terrell and Darrell Johnson graduated in May, after the team made the state playoffs for the first time in six years.

Despite the challenges, Fuller said, “we’re quick, we’re athletic and we’re scrappy – and that’s the way we want to play.”

The Rams basketball team scrimmaged on Thursday and goes into competition Monday in the Give Thanks Classic at Notre Dame. The Rams’ first home game is Dec. 1 at 7 p.m. against Campo Verde.


Nov. 20-25 Give Thanks Classic, Notre Dame
Nov. 28 at Vista Grande
Nov. 30 at Queen Creek
Dec. 1 v. Campo Verde
Dec. 5 v. Poston Butte
Dec. 8 v. Mountain View Marana
Dec. 14 at Casa Grande
Dec. 15 v. Ironwood
Dec. 27-30 Holiday Tournament, Casa Grande
Jan. 9 v. Sunnyslope
Jan. 12 v. Kellis
Jan. 16 at McClintock
Jan. 18 at Ironwood
Jan. 19 v. Apollo
Jan. 23 at Sunnyslope
Jan. 26 at Kellis
Jan. 30 v McClintock (senior night)
Feb. 1 at Williams Field
Feb. 6 at Apollo

Varsity games start at 7 p.m.

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Maricopa's 5-foot-4 guard Josh Johnson led the team's scoring with 27 points, including seven 3-pointers. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa Rams have been a bit cursed this season having the Apollo Hawks not only in their conference but also in their region.

Apollo was undefeated in 5A Metro competition and in conference play (24-3 overall). Two of those 10 region wins were against Maricopa, by scores of 90-63 and 74-52.

So after the Rams overcame a disintegration midway through the season by fighting their way into the state playoffs, it was their misfortune to be seeded 16th and bracketed against Apollo immediately. The resulting 90-66 loss to the Hawks in Round 1 was neither shocking nor shaming.

“They’re a good team and they did not have a letdown,” Maricopa coach Tony Fuller said.

Apollo’s senior point guards Dre Marin and Holland Woods put on a shooting clinic. Marin hit seven 3-pointers and scored 35 points. Woods score 27.

Junior Josh Johnson led the Rams with 27 points. He also nailed seven 3-pointers. Senior Terrell Johnson scored 18 points and brother Darrell Johnson 14.

Maricopa took the lead early and stayed close until the middle of the first quarter, when Apollo forced turnovers and started hitting nonstop from the field. The Rams trailed by nine points at the end of the quarter.

The second quarter was a disaster for the Rams, who were held to just nine points. The Hawks grew their lead to 47-29 at the half. Maricopa went on some scoring runs but could not get close to Apollo again.

Junior Cameron Sanders hit two buckets for Maricopa and Senior Roscoe Gray hit a 3-pointer to round out the scoring.

“It’s rough when they shoot the ball like that,” Fuller said. “I think the best team won, but I’m still proud of my team.”

The mood in the locker room was somber afterward, the coach said, “but I still see a sense of pride that I didn’t see when I first arrived.”

Many of the players exited red-eyed or in tears. That included Darrell Johnson, who said the team became much closer as friends as the season went on, and the final loss was frustrating.

“We played our hardest tonight and tried to get the job done,” he said.

“But you win some, you lose some.”

Twins Darrell and Terrell Johnson were newcomers to the Rams this year and were consistent top scorers and rebounders. They are among six seniors leaving the team and, at 6-foot-4, the only true height on the squad.

It was an up-and-down season for a team that started strong with two tournament victories but then lost key players to academic struggles. That contributed to a four-game slide late in the season.

With all of the missing players back, they were good enough to get into the top 24 and qualify for the play-in tournament. There, they upset 10th ranked Deer Valley in dramatic fashion to earn a spot in the playoffs.

Fuller said the Rams would have to be a lot sharper to beat a team like Apollo. And he is still concerned about the academic struggles of a lot of students with basketball skills who could not be on the team because they could not make the grades.

“We’ve got a long way to go in terms of what a real basketball program is about,” Fuller said. “The cultural dynamic has to change.”

Coach Tony Fuller is adjusting from private school to public school demands. His boys' basketball team at MHS won its first four games. Photo by Mason Callejas

When Maricopa High School hired Tony Fuller as head basketball coach, district officials knew they were getting a seasoned coach, college star and former NBA player to lead the team. They may be getting much more.

Fuller has a storied college and professional career, having played at Pepperdine University and for the Detroit Pistons. Now, at age 57, he is starting to see how important it is his team is not only winning games but his players are prepared for what awaits them after graduation.

“He talks to us every day about life and teaches us real-world stuff,” junior Josh Johnson said.

Junior El Jones also recognizes the active role their new coach is playing as a mentor and appreciates that Fuller is putting such an emphasis on things larger than the sport itself.

“He really tries to prepare us for life after basketball. He focuses on education and things like that,” Jones said. “He wants you to go to college for education first, and then basketball second.”

Having been a starter in the education game for so long, Fuller knows what it means for students who don’t take school seriously. He knows for so many underprivileged young people the best path to a successful future begins with a proper education.

“As a black educator I’m deeply concerned with the black youth of today,” Fuller said. “When you look at the statistics it doesn’t paint a very good picture. It saddens me sometimes to see what I perceive to be a future that isn’t very bright.”

Like any coach, Fuller wants a winning team. But by using his position as an educator and coach, he wants to equip all his students and players with the skills necessary to become productive members of society.

Photo by Mason Callejas
Photo by Mason Callejas

“Hopefully I can do my little part not only with the black students but all the students to maybe guide them on a path that leads to a better outcome,” Fuller said.

Fuller was hired last spring after the resignation of Jake Neill. After 10 years coaching for Brophy College Prep he was let go in 2015 but stayed on staff to teach. When he heard about the need for a basketball coach at MHS he applied for the position. Out of a pool of 40 other applicants Fuller was offered the position.

“I wanted to get back into coaching on a high school level, and I wanted to stay in the Phoenix area,” Fuller said. “[Maricopa] seemed like a nice place, and it seemed like a good school.”

The transition from private to public institution hasn’t been easy.

“So far it’s been a learning experience for me. I feel like a 60-year-old rookie,” Fuller said. “I taught at a private school for 10 years, and the difference between the private and the public is night and day. There are a lot more checks and balances at the school, a lot more meetings, a lot more paperwork.”

Fuller is embracing the change, though, and is constantly looking to the future. His dreams are not only to coach the team to victory, but to create a place where his players can become role models for other students and the city as a whole.

“My hope is that we can develop these young people into productive gentlemen, students and basketball players,” Fuller said. “My hope is that our program can be something that the community can look at with a sense of pride.”

December Schedule
Dec. 1    H    Queen Creek                     7 p.m.
Dec. 2   @    Campo Verde                    7 p.m.
Dec. 6   @    Poston Butte                     7 p.m.
Dec. 9   @    Mtn. View (Marana)          7 p.m.
Dec. 13 @    Willow Canyon                 7 p.m.
Dec. 15  H    Casa Grande                       7 p.m.
Dec. 16 @    Ironwood                           7 p.m.
Dec. 29-30    Coolidge Tournament    TBA

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

The Maricopa Rams won the Give Thanks Classic during the Thanksgiving break. Junior Josh Johnson (with trophy) was named tournament MVP. The team includes Darrell Handy-Johnson, El Jones, Terrell Handy-Johnson, Cameron Sanders, Kenny Oliver, Roscoe Gray, Dallin Moffat and Rashad Chavis. Submitted photo

The Maricopa High School boys’ basketball team took home the championship from Notre Dame Prep’s Give Thanks Classic last week. It was their very first tournament of the year.

Three victories over the course of the Thanksgiving holiday tournament led to the trophy.

The Rams took the Queen Creek Bulldogs 81-65 in their first match-up Nov. 21.

They then went on to put on a strong defensive performance during their victory over the Fountain Hills Falcons by a similar margin of 70-53 on Nov. 23.

Finally, Maricopa demonstrated offensive prowess in the championship game against the Hawks of Buckeye, though winning by a much tighter margin of 87-82 on Nov. 26.

Junior Josh Johnson was named tournament MVP, shooting a remarkable 35 of 39 free throws combined for the tournament.

“Not only did he do well on the free-throw line, but he showed solid leadership on the court, which helped controlled the game,” Coach Tony Fuller said.

Coach Tony Fuller. Photo by Mason Cajellas
Coach Tony Fuller. Photo by Mason Cajellas

Fuller said the entire team contributed to the title, but there is always room for improvement.

The Rams play their first home game tonight at 7 p.m. against Vista Grande. Thursday is also a home game, a rematch with Queen Creek.

Learn more about Coach Fuller’s approach to the Maricopa Rams in his first season in the December issue of InMaricopa, which will be in mailboxes this week.

Ex-NBA player has 156-94 record coaching high school

Tony Fuller, a former college coach and most recently head coach at Brophy Prep, has been hired to coach boys' basketball at Maricopa High School.

Tony Fuller, who just ended 10 years at Brophy College Prep, has been hired to coach the boys’ basketball team at Maricopa High School.

Jake Neill, who was head coach for four years, resigned his coaching duties at the end of the season to pursue school administration. Since then, MHS received more than 40 applications for the job.

“I’m all about moving forward,” Fuller said. “I’ve been to Maricopa three times. There are nice, new homes, and it seems to be clean and safe.”

Fuller, a one-time NBA player, was hired as head coach at Brophy in 2006. He coached only one losing season, his first, and his 2011 team reached the state Division I final. His overall record there was 156-94.

“Coach Fuller is a terrific coach with experience from all levels,” said Rick McConnell, longtime head coach at Dobson High School. “His college experience is evident in the way his teams play. They are always very fundamentally sound on both offense and defense. His demeanor and coaching style is very professional.”

In 2015, Brophy opted to make a change in its coaching staff, but Fuller stayed on with the school as a physical education teacher. When he saw the opening in Maricopa, however, his resume was ready.

“He’d asked about the job and, of course, he was a very good interview,” Maricopa Athletic Director Mark Cisterna said.

A native of Detroit, Fuller played at Pepperdine University and a season with the Detroit Pistons as a 6-foot-4 shooting guard. He was head coach at San Diego State University for two seasons and at Pepperdine for two more. He was assistant coach at Colorado State and Utah State before moving to Stanford University as an assistant for six seasons.

“I’m excited about him,” Cisterna said. “I hope people realize what a quality coach we are getting.”

Fuller, 57, has a master’s degree in physical education. He was hired as a PE teacher for MHS but also has an option to teach credit retention.

Cisterna said he already had Fuller meet some of the students and parents.

“I like the entire community,” Fuller said. “It seems to be a good situation. I wanted to go into a program where the previous coach stepped down on his own terms, unlike my situation.”

Cisterna said he and Fuller know a lot of the same people in the coaching community, and he spoke with several who had worked with him. “I got nothing but great statements about him,” he said.

Because the reasons Brophy decided not to bring back Fuller as coach were never publicized, Cisterna also spoke with the Brophy athletic director for insight.

Meanwhile, Fuller said he looked at the Rams’ record over the past 10 years on MaxPreps.com and watched game tapes. Maricopa’s team was 17-11 this season.

“Mark told me the kids are tough and hungry,” Fuller said.

That’s what he likes in a player. He describes his teams as disciplined players who play hard and play together as a group and are comprised of a lot of over-achievers.

His six-point approach to the game is clear and simple: “Transition defense, half-court defense and defensive rebounding; transition offense, half-court offense and offensive rebounding.”

Fuller called basketball a means to end. “It’s work, it’s education, it’s lifelong friendships, it’s business, it’s community,” he said.

Cisterna said a bonus of hiring Fuller is the coach’s knowledge of teams the Rams will be playing next year as realignment moves them from Division III to 5A.

“It’s not going to be an easy road,” Cisterna said.

More importantly, he said, Fuller was the kind of coach he hoped to find because of his experience with youth.

“I think he’ll be great for our kids and hold them accountable for what they do,” he said.

Two of the most influential men in Fuller’s life were his high school and college coaches. That was Ed Rachal at St. Martin de Porres in Detroit and Jim Harrick at Pepperdine. “They were father figures and role models and great, great men.”

Though he lives in Phoenix, he plans to find a house in Maricopa. (“I’m not a commuter.”) Fuller said it’s important the students and community see that he is “all in.”

“As a leader, it’s important to show your commitment to a course,” he said.

Once his commitment to Brophy is officially over, Fuller expects to host some basketball classes and tournaments in Maricopa.

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Johnny Johnson Jr. (left) and Josh Johnson were named First Team All Section. Photo by William Lange

Maricopa High School senior Johnny Johnson Jr. and sophomore Josh Johnson both received First Team All Section Basketball honors for Division III Section V.

“Both of these student athletes had phenomenal seasons,” Coach Jake Neill said.

The Johnsons led most categories for the Rams basketball team this season. Josh was MHS’s leading scorer with 537 points, averaging 19.9 per game. He also led in assists with 110 and steals with 91. His 103 total rebounds were third on the team, an average of 3.8 per game. He shot 52 percent from the field.

Johnny was second in team scoring with 504 points in 26 games, a 19.4 average. He led in rebounds with 125, 4.8 per game. He was second in assists (65) and steals (76).

For the record, the player with the second most rebounds on the team was sophomore El Jones with 113. He also easily led in blocks with 18.

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Halvorson takes 6th in state wrestling

Junior Ashia Laidler Nelson. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School girls’ basketball team is the last winter athletics team with a chance to win a state title.

The defending champion Lady Rams finished the regular season ranked eighth in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II Girls’ Basketball Power Rankings. The top-eight ranking guaranteed Maricopa a spot in the state tournament and allows them to get two extra days of rest by having a bye for the tournament’s first round.

“We’re really scrappy, but I think we have lapses boxing out that we need to address before we play teams like Seton [Catholic],” head coach Melvin Mitchell said. “I think we’ll try to adjust accordingly to whoever we have.”

The girls will play at home on Friday at 7 p.m. against the winner of 24th-ranked Marana High School (Tucson) and ninth-ranked Cienega High School (Vail). Seton Catholic, which Maricopa defeated last year for the state title, has the top seed.

For the boys’ basketball team, a 10-game winning streak in the middle of the season and a trip to the AIA Division III Section V semi-finals weren’t enough to clinch a spot in the state tournament. Four straight losses to close out the regular season dropped the Rams to 28th in the state ranking.

“We finished just outside the top 24, which was a tough pill to swallow,” Neill said. “It is difficult to look back knowing that if we could have turned one of those losses into wins it could have gotten us in.”

The boys’ team finished fifth in Section V with 4-5 conference record took a “step in the right direction,” according to the coach, by improving last year’s 15-15 overall record to 17-11 this season.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

“I was extremely pleased with this season,” Head Coach Jacob Neill said. “We fell just short of qualifying for the state tournament but that doesn’t take away from what we accomplished on the court. Our goal was to come out and be competitive to give ourselves a chance to win on a nightly basis, and we did just that. We didn’t always get the win but our guys played hard and competed from start to finish every time we stepped on the floor.”

In wrestling, junior Dakota Halverson was the only Ram to make it to the AIA Division II State Wrestling Meet. Halverson won his first two matches of the tournament, but tough losses in his next three matches dropped him to sixth place overall.

Photo by Devin Carson
Photo by Devin Carson

Halverson has made back-to-back trips to the state tournament, and he will look to make another run at the state title in 2017.

“I wanted to see improvement,” head coach Erick Fierro said. “I saw a lot of impressive wrestling from my kids and that’s what I wanted to see.”

It has been a promising year for Maricopa athletics, and spring sports (baseball, softball, track and field and tennis) will look to keep the momentum going as they get under way this month.

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Josh Johnson shoots free throws against one of the top teams in the state. Photo by Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School boys’ basketball may have played their last game of the 2015-16 season in a losing effort Friday night against Scottsdale Christian Academy in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III Section V Tournament semi-finals.

The Rams beat Blue Ridge High School (Lakeside) in the first round of the section tournament Wednesday night, but couldn’t overcome the section’s top ranked-team Friday. Scottsdale Christian jumped out to a 23 point lead at halftime and, despite a furious comeback attempt from Maricopa in the second half, held on for a victory.

“When you’re playing the best team in the state, and they’re making shot after shot after shot, it’s tough to deal with,” head coach Jacob Neill said. “Then in the second half, we came out and our shots finally started falling for us and that allowed us to get into our press.”

The Rams utilized their speed and aggressive play to frustrate Scottsdale Christian throughout the second half. After scoring 39 first-half points, the Eagles were held to just 10 in the third quarter.

“The first half, we really weren’t pressuring the ball,” sophomore Josh Johnson said. “The second half, we came out and we started pressuring the ball a bit. That got [Scottsdale Christian] uncomfortable.”

Maricopa scored 25 points in the third quarter to get within six points of the Eagles. However, fatigue set in for the Rams.

“When you press like that you do get fatigued and you do get tired,” Neill said. “As they went along they were also able to see where the weaknesses in our press were, and they were able to attack those a little more.”

Maricopa entered the game ranked 30th in the AIA Power Rankings. In order to make the top 24, the players knew a memorable performance was needed.

“We came out in the second half and put our hearts and souls into it,” senior guard Johnny Johnson Jr. said. “This might be our last game, and everyone came out and played with a lot of effort and a lot of heart.”

The Rams moved up to 28th position in Saturday morning’s rankings. It is unlikely for Maricopa to jump four more spots without playing another game, but the rankings will receive a final update before the playoff brackets are set next week.

“It’s a waiting game now,” Neill said. “We’re sitting just outside the top 24. Playing Scottsdale Christian should give us a boost to the strength of our schedule, but the fact of the matter is no one really knows how the AIA formula works. The one thing I refuse to do with the guys is have the end of the year speech because there’s still a chance.”

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Josh Johnson looks for an opening against Valley Christian. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

After winning 10 straight games to start the second half of the season, the Maricopa High School boys’ basketball team has lost three straight and dropped outside the top 24 in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III Power Rankings.

The Rams climbed up to 22nd in the rankings following their tremendous 10 game stretch, but losses to Show Low High School, Scottsdale Christian Academy and Valley Christian High School over a five-day span dropped Maricopa to 27th.

“There’s been a lot of ups and downs this season,” MHS boys’ basketball head coach Jacob Neill said. “My goal coming into the season was to compete every night, and we’ve been in every single game at the end with a chance to win.”

The Show Low loss was particularly harmful to the team’s hopes as the Rams had the higher ranking. The 81-68 loss to second-ranked Scottsdale Christian was not a surprise. A similar result was expected when the Rams hosted sixth-ranked Valley Christian, but Maricopa pushed the Trojans hard. The Rams held a lead in the second half, but a third-quarter scoring frenzy by Valley Christian allowed the Trojans to pull away and hold on in the fourth for their 62-50 victory.

Maricopa’s final week of the season is crucial to their playoff hopes. The Rams will host Poston Butte High School (San Tan Valley) Tuesday night for their final game of the season. Maricopa is unlikely to overcome Poston’s third place positioning in AIA Div. III Section V, but a win nearly guarantees the Rams a spot in the section tournament. A loss could potentially end Maricopa’s season.

“One of our goals (throughout the season was) to qualify for the sectional tournament in which the top six teams in our section qualify for,” Neill said. “There are a lot of quality teams in our section. If we qualify for the sectional tournament it gives us a good shot at qualifying for the state tournament.”

If Maricopa qualifies for the section tournament, they will have another opportunity to qualify for the state playoffs. A section championship would guarantee the Rams a playoff spot, but a strong performance could boost their ranking as well.

The section tournament is set to take place Feb. 9-11 at Valley Christian High School in Gilbert.

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The Maricopa High School Rams are 16-6 after winning 10 games in a row in a quest to reach the state tournament. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

With a comeback win over a tough conference opponent and a dominating performance against a winless team, the Maricopa High School boys’ basketball team extended their winning streak to 10 games.

The Rams are 16-6 overall and 4-1 in section play.

“We don’t take any opponent lightly,” head coach Jacob Neill said. “Prepare to play no matter what.”

Tuesday, Maricopa defeated Scottsdale Prep Academy on the road, 58-51. The Spartans have been playing just under .500 ball this season and ran off with a 22-7 lead in the first quarter.

The Rams answered by outscoring SPA 19-9 to trail by 5 at the half, and repeated that feat in the third quarter to take a lead they would not relinquish.

Sophomore Josh Johnson led MHS with 23 points. He also led in steals with five and assists with three. Senior Johnny Johnson Jr. scored 15 points. Senior Tommy Jensen marked his return with 10 points. Sophomore El Jones grabbed seven rebounds.

“We’re coming together,” Neill said. “We were short on guys, and guys were playing a lot of minutes. As you get to the end of the season, you don’t necessarily want guys playing a ton of minutes. It’s starting to get where we are solidifying our rotation, and guys can go in and get breathers. We’re starting to be a deep basketball team, which is nice going into the last two weeks of the regular season.”

Thursday, Maricopa hosted the 0-12 Veritas Prep Falcons. Neill liberally used his bench throughout the game in the 80-15 victory. Veritas scored only two points in the second half.

Josh Johnson led the scoring with 29 points, shooting 76 percent from the field. He also had a team-high 11 assists and seven steals. Johnny Johnson scored 19 points, 17 in the first half, and led the rebounding with six. Senior Isaiah Soriano scored 12 points on four 3-pointers in the first half.

“Tonight was just another win,” Neill said. “It’s 10 games now, and it’s pretty exciting. Every win we get just helps us a little bit more and a little bit more toward reaching our goal of qualifying for the state tournament.”

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Isaiah Soriano was co-leader in scoring for the Rams against Payson with 22 points. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

By Adam Wolfe and Devin Carson

After winning eight straight games, the Maricopa High School boys’ basketball team has moved into playoff position in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III basketball rankings. Maricopa has climbed from 38th to 22nd.

In section play, the top six teams will compete in the AIA Division III Section V tournament, and Maricopa currently holds the third place spot. With six conference games remaining, the Rams control their own destiny for the post season.

The Rams are 14-6.

“When you go on an eight-game winning streak, there’s some things that we need to get better with and some things that we need to tweak, but I don’t think we need to change anything,” head coach Jacob Neill said. “We’re playing really good basketball right now, so I don’t necessarily think we need to change things.”

MHS defeated Blue Ridge Tuesday at home, 73-69, in a barn-burner. The Rams trailed 49-47 after three quarters, but came on in the fourth to pull out the conference victory.

Senior Johnny Johnson Jr. scored 27 and had seven rebounds. Sophomore Josh Johnson scored 22 and had six rebounds. Senior Isaiah Soriano scored 11. El Jones blocked two shots.

Thursday at home, the Rams thumped Payson, 83-68, in another conference game. Maricopa took command early and flirted with a 30-point lead before Neill turned the court over to his second team in the final quarter.

“I think we did great,” Soriano said. “First half was a little slow, but we made up for it in the second half.”

Hitting four 3-pointers for a big second half, Soriano scored 22 to match Johnny Johnson. Josh Johnson scored 18 and had seven rebounds and six steals. Jones led the rebounding with eight.

“Well, the first half wasn’t great – my head wasn’t screwed on right,” Soriano said. “But when Coach gave me his usual pep talk it got me back in the game. I think the third quarter is when I really shined.”

The Rams have not lost since winter break. The team has been playing at a high level, but Maricopa will need to stay focused as they face the top-ranked Eagles of Scottsdale Christian Academy and the sixth-ranked Trojans of Valley Christian High School at the end of the season.

Soriano is looking forward to playing Scottsdale Christian on Jan. 27.

“They are the top team in our section,” he said. “It’s going to be a tight game but I think we will come out on top.”

Neill, too, has confidence in the team’s future.

“We’ve been [playing well] since the Coolidge tournament in December,” Neill said. “We’ve come together each game and (have) done what it takes to win basketball games. It’s hard to go on a streak like we’ve been on, and we’ve faced a bit of adversity, but we’ve handled that adversity and done everything we’ve needed to do to win games.”

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The MHS Rams are 11-6 for the season.

The Maricopa High School Boys’ basketball team has won five straight games since entering Christmas break and will look to stay hot as they enter section play.

The Rams beat Youngker High School (Buckeye) 64-40 Tuesday night to earn their fifth straight win and improve to 11-6 on the season. Over the last four weeks, Maricopa has won seven of their last nine games, and took first place in the “Bear Down Shoot Out” holiday tournament at Coolidge High School.

Maricopa entered Tuesday’s game missing two of their regular starters due to academic issues. The missing fire power was evident as the team started off slow, but the feisty Rams were able to find their stroke in the second quarter and run away with the game.

“We’re down numbers wise and some guys stepped in tonight and did a great job,” head coach Jacob Neill said. “It took us a little bit to get going. We had a slow first quarter, but from the second quarter on we got in the flow of things and really did what we are capable of doing.”

For much of the remaining season, Maricopa will face Arizona Interscholastic Association Division III Section V opponents. The Rams are currently 0-1 in conference play, but still have eight more games to climb to qualify for the section tournament.

“We’re in section play for the majority of the rest of the season,” Neill said. “Our first goal is to qualify for the section tournament. In order to do that, we need to finish top six in our section.”

If weather permits, Maricopa will travel to Show Low High School for section game against the Cougars Thursday night. The Rams will come back home against Division II opponent North High School (Phoenix) on Monday, Jan. 11 before returning to section play at home against Blue Ridge High School (Lakeside) on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

“Down the stretch, any section game is a key game,” Neill said. “So we [have to] know night in and night out that it’s going to be a grind and for us to meet our goals we’re going to have to be prepared every single night.”

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The Maricopa High School Rams basketball team won the Bear Down tournament in Coolidge. (MHS photo)

The Maricopa High School boys’ basketball team won the “Bear Down Shoot Out” holiday tournament in Coolidge with four straight victories earlier this week.

Their record now stands at 10-6.

“We played a really good stretch of four games over the two days and I am extremely proud of how far the team has come in the last couple of weeks,” head coach Jake Neill said. “One area that we have been lacking in is consistency. We have been up and down all year long from game to game and even from quarter to quarter so it was great to see us go out and perform at the level that we are capable of performing for four straight games”

The tournament started well for Maricopa on Monday morning as they took down the much smaller Arizona Interscholastic Association Division V challenger Antelope Union High School Rams, 88-53. Maricopa controlled the game from the tip-off and was led by excellent guard play. Seniors Johnny Johnson Jr. and Jalen Lee combined for 40 points, and sophomore guard Josh Johnson led the team with 23 points, nine rebounds and four assists.

The Rams followed up their dominant victory with a barn burner against AIA Division III contender Empire High School out of Tucson Monday night. The Ravens gave Maricopa all they had, but the Rams pulled off an 82-74 victory in overtime.

The trio of Johnson, Johnson and Lee once again controlled the game as they scored 74 of the team’s 82 points. Johnny Johnson Jr. led Maricopa with 31 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but Josh Johnson added 24 points of his own, and Lee scored 19.

The victory moved the Rams forward into the semi-finals Tuesday morning where they faced off with Division V power Santa Cruz Valley High School (Eloy). The game started out close, but Maricopa was able to pull away in the second half. A stellar defensive effort helped the Rams claim a 78-53 victory.

Johnny Johnson Jr. scored 29 points and grabbed nine rebounds in the victory, but fellow guards Josh Johnson and Jalen Lee reached double digits in scoring for the third straight game as well.

The Rams waited to face the winner of Empire and Santa Cruz Valley in the finale of the consolation bracket. The Dust Devils exploded for 92 points to set the rematch with Maricopa Tuesday night.

The dominant defense that helped Maricopa beat Santa Cruz earlier in the day remained. The Rams controlled the championship game from start to finish and walked away with a 91-47 victory.

Josh Johnson led the team with 20 points and seven assists in the championship game, but four other members of the Rams’ team reached double digits in scoring to round out a balanced performance.

Johnny Johnson Jr. and Josh Johnson were named to the All-Tournament team.

“The guys are really starting to come together and you can see it in the play offensively and defensively,” Neill said. “I am really looking forward to the second half of the season and trying to make a run at qualifying for the section tournament and state tournament. We have a lot of really tough match ups where, if we play like we played in this tournament, we are going to be an exciting team to watch.”

The Rams will return to action at home on Jan. 5 against Youngker High School (Buckeye) at 7 p.m.

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Jalen Lee drives against Dysart in a home loss for the Maricopa Rams. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa High School Rams moved to 6-6 on the season Thursday with a non-conference loss at home to Dysart, 63-60.

The tall front line for the Demons (one starter is 6-foot-10) looked like they were going to run away with the game from the outset. The Rams were scoreless until the final 4 minutes of the first quarter. Then the Maricopa defense kicked in and tormented Dysart the rest of the game.

The Rams took a 31-25 lead at the half. Forcing turnovers, they were frequently able to overcome the height disadvantage with quickness in the third quarter. The Demons, however, grabbed back the lead in the final minute of the game, leaving Maricopa with a frustrating might-have-been.

A Division III team, Dysart is 9-2 on the season.

See more game photos, and other sports and community galleries, at InMaricopa.com/Photos.

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Rams watch the action from the bench as the MHS record moves to 5-4. Photo by Adam Wolfe

The Maricopa High School boys’ basketball team (5-4) has played nine games in two weeks to start the 2015-16 season.

It began with a Thanksgiving tournament at Independence High School in Glendale, and it hasn’t slowed down since. The Rams played Apache Junction High School, Westwood High School (Mesa) and Casa Grande Union High School between Dec. 1 and Dec. 4, and they are now in the middle of an eight-day span where they will travel to Yuma three times.

However, despite the ferocious schedule, Maricopa has shown flashes of brilliance and resilient play.

“The season is going good so far,” MHS boys’ basketball head coach Jacob Neill said. “There’s been a lot of ups and downs. My goal coming into the season was to compete every night, and with exception of the Casa Grande game, we’ve been in every single game at the end with a chance to win.”

Last Friday, the Rams lost to the Casa Grande Cougars by 22 points. Casa Grande was able to pull away with a 23 to 4 run in the third, but outside of those eight minutes, the Rams were within one point of the Cougars.

Blowout losses are out of character for this team. Throughout the season, Maricopa has won five games by an average of 11 points, and they’ve lost three games by an average of five points.

The feisty play is spear headed by senior guard Johnny Johnson Jr. and sophomore guard Josh Johnson. The two guards, like the team as a whole, are undersized, but use strength and determination to attack the basket.

Sophomore Josh Johnson leads the Rams' scoring early in the season. Photo by William Lange
Sophomore Josh Johnson leads the Rams’ scoring early in the season. Photo by William Lange

“Our strength is our guard play,” Neill said. “Going into the season I knew our guard play would be strong and we’d be lacking in the big man department. We really don’t have a true big man, but we have had a few guys step up and rebound the ball.”

Maricopa compensates for its lack of size with tremendous speed. The Rams often try to push the tempo of the game. However, late in the game, fatigue visibly sets in on the team and the players begin to force bad shots from distance instead of driving inside for higher percentage field goals.

Throughout the early part of the season, the Rams have shown they can play with anyone.

“As long as we continue to improve, we’ll be good to go and be able to handle the teams that are bigger than us,” Neill said. “We’ve been able to score the basketball; we just have to learn to close games.”

Through nine games, sophomore Josh Johnson leads the Rams in scoring with 173 points, averaging 19.2 per game, and hitting 23 3-point field goals. He also leads in assists with 2.6 per game.

Senior Johnny Johnson Jr. has scored 118 points, a 14.8 average, and leads in steals with 3.4 per game. He averages 4 rebounds per game. Sophomore El Jones leads the rebounding with 42, averaging 4.7 per game, and has the highest field-goal average at 57 percent.

Senior Jalen Lee is averaging 9.8 points per game, and senior Isaiah Soriano has hit 16 3-pointers and is averaging 6.3 points per game.

Maricopa will travel to Yuma for the second time this week to take on the Cibola High School Raiders on Friday, and then return to Yuma for the third time in eight days to play Yuma High School on Dec. 16.

The Rams will return to Maricopa for a Thursday night matchup against Dysart High School (El Mirage) at 7 p.m. on Dec. 17.

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MHS sophomore Josh Johnson was named to the all-tournament team. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School boys’ basketball team went 2-2 in the Independence High School third annual Basketball Thanksgiving Tournament to kick off the 2015-16 season.

The IHS tournament featured teams from both Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II and Maricopa’s Division III. The Rams played two teams from each division and went 1-1 against both.

“I was very pleased with our performance throughout the week in the tournament,” MHS boys’ basketball head coach Jake Neill said. “One of our goals this year is to give ourselves a chance to win every single game no matter who it is we are playing, and we did just that this week.

“In a quality tournament like this getting out 2-2 while being short-handed is OK for us. In our two wins we led from start to finish and controlled the game in both contests. In our two losses we lost by 3 and 4 and had chances in the end of both of those games to seize control and get the win, but we came up just short.”

The Rams started the tournament against much larger Division II contender Alhambra High School. Maricopa controlled the game and took a 48-40 victory.

Following that success, Division II Willow Canyon High School (Surprise) and tournament host Independence High School (Glendale) beat Maricopa by a combined seven points.

The Rams would rebound from the two losses with a dominant victory over fellow Division III opponent Barry Goldwater High School (Phoenix). Maricopa outpaced the Bulldogs on their way to a 66-50 victory.

“Our major weakness last year was giving up too many offensive rebounds, and in our two losses we did just that,” Neill said. “We cannot continue to let teams get second and third opportunities on possessions and expect to win games. We showed a lot of toughness and even though we were missing some key players we were able to compete at a high level in every game which is encouraging.”

Sophomore Josh Johnson averaged 22 points per game and was named to the All-Tournament team. The Rams were also led by outstanding play from seniors Johnny Johnson Jr., Isaac Carlyle and Isaiah Soriano.

The Rams will return to action Tuesday night against the Apache Junction High School Prospectors at home at 7 p.m.

Tourney results
Opponent              W/L    Score

Alhambra               W    48-40
Willow Canyon       L    65-61
Independence         L    50-47
Goldwater              W    68-50

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Maricopa High School's starting 5 (from left) Johnny Johnson Jr., Isaac Carlyle, Josh Johnson, Isaiah Pedro and Tommy Jensen. Photo by William Lange

The Maricopa High School boys’ basketball team has high expectations as they return eight players from last season and move into a new division.

The Rams will be moving from Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II to Division III for the 2015-16 season. The drop won’t eliminate the level of competition, though. Five of the teams within Division III Section V made the playoffs last year, including the 2015 AIA Sate Runner-Up, Combs High School, and the number one overall seed in the 2015 AIA State Playoffs, Blue Ridge High School.

“We have moved to a new section and my expectations for us are to compete at a high level and be one of the top teams in our section,” MHS boys’ basketball head coach Jacob Neill said. “One of our goals is to qualify for the sectional tournament in which the top six teams in our section qualify. There are a lot of quality teams in our section, but I truly believe that we can compete for those top spots with this team.”

If the Rams qualify for the sectional tournament, they will have a shot at qualifying for the state tournament if they haven’t done so already.

“I am excited about the upcoming season because we return eight players from the varsity roster from the 14-15 team, including our top 4 scorers,” Neill said.

The team’s experience will be crucial to navigate through a tough schedule this season, which includes three trips to Yuma, a trip to Show Low and a season finale against defending State Runner-Up Combs on the road.

Seniors Johnny Johnson Jr. and Isaiah Pedro were two of the team’s top scorers last year, and their leadership will be key for the Rams this season. Sophomore Josh Johnson will look to pick up where he left off in his breakout freshman season last year, and seniors Jalen Lee, Isaac Carlyle, Donald Grace, Tommy Jenson and Isaiah Soriano will look to provide experience and leadership throughout the season.

Sibling rivalry? Senior Johnny Johnson Jr. (left) and sophomore Josh Johnson were the team's leading scorers last year. Photo by William Lange
Sibling rivalry? Senior Johnny Johnson Jr. (left) and sophomore Josh Johnson were the team’s leading scorers last year. Photo by William Lange

“We have a lot of experience and quite a few seniors on our team this year,” Neill said. “I am hoping that a couple of those seniors are able to step into a leadership role on this team.”

Maricopa will start the season by competing in Independence High School’s third annual Basketball Thanksgiving Tournament at Independence High School in Glendale Nov. 23-28. The Rams will then return to Maricopa for their home opener on Tuesday, Dec. 1, against Apache Junction at 7 p.m.

Nov. 18     5 p.m.     (A)     Willow Canyon (Surprise) (Scrim.)
Nov. 23     TBA     (A)     Centennial – IHS Tournament
Nov. 24     5:30 p.m.     (A)     Alhambra – IHS Tournament
Nov. 25     6:30 p.m.    (A)     Willow Canyon – IHS Tournament
Dec. 1     7 p.m.     (H)     Apache Junction
Dec. 3     7 p.m.    (A)     Westwood (Mesa)
Dec. 4     7 p.m.    (H)     Casa Grande Union
Dec. 8     7 p.m.    (A)     Kofa (Yuma)
Dec. 11     7 p.m.    (A)     Cibola (Yuma)
Dec. 16     7 p.m.    (A)     Yuma
Dec. 17     7 p.m.    (H)     Dysart (El Mirage)
Jan. 5     7 p.m.    (H)     Youngker (Buckeye)
Jan. 7     7 p.m.    (A)     Show Low
Jan. 11     7 p.m.    (H)     North (Phoenix Union)
Jan. 12     7 p.m.    (H)     Blue Ridge (Pinetop/Lakeside)
Jan. 14     7 p.m.    (H)     Payson
Jan. 19     7 p.m.    (A)     Scottsdale Preparatory Academy
Jan. 21     7 p.m.    (H)     Veritas Preparatory Academy (Phoenix)
Jan. 27     7 p.m.    (A)     Scottsdale Christian Academy
Jan. 29     7 p.m.    (H)     Valley Christian (Chandler)
Feb. 3     7 p.m.    (H)     Poston Butte (San Tan Valley)
Feb. 5     7 p.m.    (A)     Combs (San Tan Valley)

Maricopa High School 2015-16 boys' basketball varsity team. Photo by William Lange
Maricopa High School 2015-16 boys’ basketball varsity team. Photo by William Lange