The Sedona Red Rock Junior High School boys basketball team clinched the Verde Valley League championship on Saturday, Jan. 28, after winning the Verde Valley League seventh- and eighth-grade boys basketball tournament.
Entering the tournament with a 17-2 overall record and 11-1 in league play, the Scorpions enjoyed a bye before they cruised past host Camp Verde Middle School in the semifinal, 49-19.
“Communication is the No. 1 key to know where everyone is,” head coach Pedro Ortega said. “We generate offense out of defense. We try to play defense with our feet and beating them to the spot.”
After a long break, the team took on the only team to which it lost during the regular season, Clarkdale-Jerome School. Ortega said that on their court, they lost by two in overtime, and at home beat them by 20, so it would depend on “which team shows up.” The two teams did not disappoint in what was a competitive championship game.
After a free throw by the Mingus Rams with 2:32 left in the first, the Scorpions found themselves down 8-7. But Red Rock eighth-grader Micha Johnson followed up with a three-pointer to take the lead.
The turnovers and easy buckets were not coming as easy as they had against Camp Verde, and opportune scoring by Clarkdale led to a 12-12 score at the quarter’s end.
“We talked about the game plan,” Ortega said. “And how it was not going to be easy. We had to be focused and mentally strong.”
Early on in the second, the Mingus Rams were in the single bonus, but were unable to take advantage; they missed eight consecutive free throws until almost the end of the third quarter.
Scorpions eighth-grader Carlos Landaverde scored off of a Clarkdale turnover and Johnson took advantage of another, but back-to-back three-pointers from the Mingus Rams knotted the game at 18. A basket from downtown for Red Rock restored its lead at 21-18 before halftime.
In the third, the Scorpions made their move while Clarkdale could have just as easily taken the lead, but missed easy shots.
A 9-1 scoring run during the second half of the quarter pushed the Red Rock lead to 33-23. Ten of its points came off of turnovers.
Johnson opened the fourth with a triple, but the Mingus Rams answered with seven unanswered to stay in it.
They pulled to within five at 38-33, but after a Scorpion timeout, Red Rock scored eight of the final 10 points to finish off the 46-35 victory.
“It was a total team effort,” Ortega said. “We had to regroup, had to adjust to get them off of what we were doing, step off the pedal and push again.”
After the championship game, eighth-graders Landaverde and Joseph Johnson were named to the All-Tournament team. Micha Johnson was named MVP.
“It feels amazing. After all of the hours going to Cottonwood to practice six hours a day,” Micha Johnson said of the honor. “I have to say our coach really helped us. When we followed his direction we won, and when we didn’t things didn’t go so well.”
The team will take a break before it moves on to the Arizona Small Schools Tournament, a statewide championship, from Thursday, Feb. 9 to Saturday, Jan. 11 in Clarkdale.