A slow first half ended up costing the Sedona Red Rock Junior High School boys basketball in its final game before the new year, falling to Clarkdale-Jerome School 40-29 on Thursday, Dec. 21.
Clarkdale’s full-court pressure was a new challenge and proved troublesome for the Scorpions, who scored just nine points in the first half while giving up 23.
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“We have plays that we have to break the press, but we don’t got them yet; we’re still thinking about those,” Scorpions head coach Pedro Ortega said. “Eventually they’ll get it, it should be our goal for 2018, to get better at that. Against teams that press and go hard we’ve got to make an adjustment for that.”
Turnovers fueled Clarkdale’s offense. The Rams also showed good court vision, drawing defenders and making passes to open teammates.
Red Rock, playing without three regular starters, was down 7-0 before seventh grader Carson Karuzas hit a three-pointer.
But Clarkdale’s defense continued to force the Scorpions to stop their dribble and make contested passes, going up 12-5 after the first quarter.
Red Rock went without recording a field goal for more than five minutes until eighth grader Esguer Julian scored inside to make it 13-7. The hosts were late to loose balls and on defense, giving up 10 more points before halftime.
“We tend to [start slow] in the first quarter, so that’s my job to start pushing it from the beginning and get the energy going,” Ortega said. “If you’re going slow, everything moves slow.”
Newfound energy and a defensive adjustment made the game more competitive during the second half. Scorpions eighth grader Alberto Juarez scored a tranisiton layup after a Clarkdale turnover.
Red Rock eighth grader Cameron Stewart scored from beyond the arc to cut the deficit to 34-18.
“What I told them at halftime to was to work on our defense and get energy back so that generates offense. Getting low, working hard, fighting for every possession,” Ortega said.
The Rams were not scoring as easily as they were, but still continued to put points on the board; the teams tied the quarter 11-11, and Clarkdale led 34-20.
The Scorpions begun to double team the Clarkdale ballhandlers in the backcourt, tipping passes and creating the same havoc the visitors had inflicted on them in the first half.
The closest the hosts came was 36-27 after a Karuzas free throw, but continued missed layups throughout the second half halted the comeback try.
“I think we did a good job on that, trying to recover, help defense,” Ortega said.
Ortega looked at the loss as an opportunity for growth and learning. With a relatively new team, progress has been made since the first game of the season, a 49-23 loss to a strong Beaver Creek School team.
“I think we’ve done remarkable. We’ve scored 57 and 54 [points], so the offense is there,” Ortega said. “We’re learning, and for me everything starts from the defensive end to generate offense. But they’re buying in.”
The team beat Mountain View Preparatory School 26-14 the day prior.
The junior high school girls team has an 8-3 overall record after losing to MVP 34-16 on Wednesday, Dec. 20. On Dec. 21, the Scorpions traveled to Clarkdale where they beat the Rams 26-18.