Ed Petruska Contributing Writer Pinal Central
SIGNAL PEAK — An uphill climb looms for the Central Arizona College basketball teams as they embark on their postseason journeys.
The men (12-17) are seeded No. 4 and play at No. 1 Arizona Western (21-9) on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the opening round of the Division I Region 1 tournament. The women (21-9) host Western (21-9) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. (fans are requested to wear black in support of the Vaqueras), with the winner advancing to the March 9 region championship game against top-seeded Cochise (28-2) or No. 4 Eastern Arizona (5-25).
The Vaqueros will have to go 3-0 to advance to the NJCAA Tournament March 19-24 in Hutchinson, Kansas. Saturday's winner will take on second-seeded Cochise (22-8) or No. 3 Mesa (16-13) in Monday's Region 1 final. The next step is the District 1 final on March 10 against the Region 18 tournament champ.
The Region 1 women's champion is an automatic qualifier for nationals, to be held March 19-24 in Lubbock, Texas. The Vaqueras, who own four NJCAA titles, are looking to return to nationals following a two-year absence.
Both national tournaments will have a 24-team field — 16 automatic qualifiers and eight at-large selections.
The Central men went 1-7 against the other three teams in the region tourney field, with the lone win being a 91-83 overtime decision over Mesa on Feb. 10. The Vaqueros fell 88-67 on Jan. 6 and 106-81 on Feb. 14 against Western. They lost 85-66 on Nov. 29 and 88-61 on Jan. 27 against Cochise, and 85-79 to Mesa on Jan. 3.
To win the upcoming game against Western, "we have to show some poise," CAC coach Tramaine Aaron said. "I think we can compete if we have good shot selection and don't take any plays off on defense.
"I feel good about our chances. I like the matchups. Plus, they've been beaten by teams we've beat."
The Vaqueras went 0-2 against Western, losing 67-65 at home on Jan. 6 and 73-59 in Yuma on Feb. 14. They defeated Cochise 71-68 at home on Nov. 29 and lost 56-53 to the Apaches in Douglas on Jan. 27. Central went 2-0 against Eastern, winning 79-58 in Thatcher on Jan. 17 and 106-57 on Feb. 24 at home.
"This season has been a roller coaster, but I like to think that we've been playing better (of late)," CAC coach Denise Cardenas said.
The Vaqueras have won four straight, scoring 106 points in two of those outings.
Cardenas said "we have to do a better job of sustaining our focus" to get past Western. "We can't have mental lapses, we have to defend their outside shots and we have to beat them on rebounds at both ends."
CAC's Kiara Knox was named to the women's all-ACCAC first team. The sophomore forward ranks third in the conference in scoring with a 17.1 average and second in rebounds at 10.8 per game. She also averages 2.4 assists and 3.5 steals.
Freshman guard Morticia McCall was named to the all-ACCAC second team. She averages 13.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.2 steals. Sophomore forward Kendra Butler was a third-team all-ACCAC pick. She averages 9.7 points and 6.9 rebounds.
Sophomore guard Jamie Young averages 10.4 points, 4.6 rebounds 2.2 assists and 1.3 steals for the Vaqueras. She has made 66 3-pointers, which ranks fifth in the ACCAC. Freshman guard Megan Guadian averages 9.9 points and has made 86 3-pointers, which ranks third in the conference. Her .415 3-point shooting percentage is tied for first in the ACCAC.
Danny Garrick was a second-team selection for the all-ACCAC men's team. The sophomore guard averages 16.8 points and 6.7 rebounds. He has made 92 3-pointers, which ranks fifth in the conference.
All-ACCAC second-team pick Alfonso Plummer (15.5 points) leads the Arizona Western men in scoring. Cochise's Chaz Mack, an all-conference first-teamer, is the top scorer in the ACCAC with a 20.2 average. Mesa is led by Sindou Diallo (12.9).
All-conference second-teamers Destiny Gonzalez (10.8) and Gloria Mulumba (10.1) are the top scorers for the Western women. Cochise is led by ACCAC player of the year Awa Keitia (13.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 3.3 steals) and all-conference third-teamer Mamita Diagne (14.2 points). Eastern's top soccer is Miyah Ursery (11.9 points).