The Maricopa High School boys basketball team built its record to 12-4 through the beginning of the new year by taking the consolation prize at the White Mountain Holiday Classic Tournament.
Losses to Seton Catholic Monday to start the second half of the season, followed by two more losses to McClintock and Queen Creek dropped that record to 12-7 and put them at 0-4 in section play.
“We play the toughest section in Division II,” coach Jake Neill said. “But we knew that coming into it. It can be a blessing and a curse at times. We’ve been talking about it all along, that once we’re into January, that’s where it gets tough for us.”
December, on the other hand, was pretty good for the Rams.
During regular season play leading up the White Mountain tourney, they hosted Vista Grande Dec. 10 and trounced the Spartans 52-26. Junior Johnny Johnson led the Rams scoring with 20 points and had eight rebounds and five steals. Junior Isiah Pedro scored 13 points to go with six rebounds. Senior Eric Johnson had six rebounds, and Josh Johnson had five assists.
The Rams then lost to Casa Grande 60-47 Dec. 12. Josh Johnson was the leading scorer with 17 points. He also had five rebounds and four assists. Johnny Johnson put in 13 points.
A tough game Dec. 20 against the Coolidge Bears had a tied score at the half but ended up in a 54-50 loss for the Rams at the Hoopin It Up at the Arena event at the US Airways Center. Pedro led all scorers with 19 points. Josh Johnson scored 12 and Eric Johnson eight. Johnny Johnson mustered only five points but led in assists with five.
Braving snowy climes at the 14th annual White Mountain Holiday Classic, Maricopa danced through their two Pool D opponents, Joseph City and Ganado, in Jan. 1 games.
They clobbered Joseph City 74-38 after running off with a 35-19 lead at the half. Johnny Johnson and junior Tommy Jensen both brought 17 points, Josh Johnson scored 13, and junior Jalen Lee 10. Josh also had six rebounds and six assists. Jalen had six assists and five steals.
Maricopa ran over Ganado 57-37, holding the Hornets to just two points in the first quarter. Johnny Johnson scored 22 points, while Jensen had 12. Pedro pulled down seven rebounds, and Josh Johnson had nine assists.
That win set the Rams up against Blue Ridge Jan. 2 in the main bracket. Maricopa dropped the game 63-53. Shooting 82 percent from the field, Josh Johnson scored 18 to lead the team, followed by Johnny Johnson’s 16 points.
That put Maricopa in the consolation bracket, where the boys trampled Ash Fork 80-50 with seismic shooting from Johnny Johnson and Jensen. Johnson scored 33 points, all in 3-pointers. Jenson had a 96-percent-shooting day and scored 23 points. Josh Johnson scored 10 and helped out with 11 assists.
The Rams then took down Greyhills Academy, 57-40. A strong opening half gave the Rams a 35-23 lead, and they held Greyhills to just four points in the third quarter. Johnny Johnson led the scoring with 16 points, with Josh Johnson close behind with 15, and both pulled in six rebounds. Jenson scored 13 and had five rebounds.
In the consolation finale, Maricopa defeated Walden Grove, 52-45. Josh Johnson was top scorer with 17 points, followed by Jensen’s 13. Pedro scored nine, and Johnny Johnson eight. Johnny led in rebounds with six.
Johnny and Josh Johnson were named to the All-Tournament Team.
“We had a good weekend,” Neil said. “We were 5-1 and we really played well for three days. Luckily, we were able to come home with something.”
Back in regular season play Jan. 5, the Rams dug themselves a first-quarter hole they could not get out of against a Seton Catholic squad that could not seem to miss the basket. Despite clamping down on defense and outscoring their hosts in the second half, the Rams wound up losing 70-51.
“Our guys fought hard and never quit,” Neill said. “It was probably the closest 19-point loss I’ve ever seen. We weren’t bad; they just had one of the best shooting nights I’ve seen.”
Lee led the team with 14 points. Jensen put up 11, and Johnny and Josh Johnson both scored 10.
In the 92-63 loss to McClintock Tuesday night, it was Pedro leading the way with a hot 23 points. Johnny Johnson scored 17. The Rams lost to Queen Creek 61-37 Thursday. Johnny Johnson scored 22. Josh Johnson led the team’s rebounding with six.
***ADVERTISEMENT***“We just want to be competitive night in and night out,” he said. “Our whole focus is that we can only control us and get better day by day.”
The team’s lack of size is a challenge as they struggle for defensive rebounds, but teamwork has only improved.
“That’s something the tournament helped,” Neill said. “We play together better as a team on both ends.”