Walden Grove defeated Empire 58-45 in a game with several subplots including the first win for Walden Grove’s new coach, Jimmy Stohlman.
Mozelle Williams resigned from the program on Monday morning in what the Sahuarita Sun reported as “irreconcilable differences” with school administration. Williams began the program in 2011 when the school first opened.
Stohlman was an assistant coach under Williams and it appears the Red Wolves have moved on without skipping a beat. Stohlman was a standout scorer at Flowing Wells during his high school days so it might be a blessing that he will be guiding shooting guard Connor Verdugo.
Verdugo is averaging 18 points a game in his career at Walden Grove and the sophomore is already approaching 700 career points with about two and a half years left in high school. Verdugo might be able to break 2,000 career points although the pending move up a division next year may be an obstacle.
Verdugo was held scoreless in the first half and Empire was able to build a 21-14 lead over the Red Wolves with 2:55 left in the second quarter but Walden Grove went on a 9-2 run to close out the half to make it 23-23 at the break.
Empire continued to struggle in the opening minutes of the third and Walden Grove increased the lead to 30-23 two minutes in thanks in part to a 3-pointer from Verdugo.
“My role on the team is to score,” Verdugo said. “When I’m not making baskets it gets difficult for the team so I try to pick it up with assists.”
Walden Grove has Verdugo and Empire has Grant Plouck. Plouck came into the game with 1,627 career points, 23 points behind the program’s record mark of 1,650 set by Deion James last year. James is now freshman at North Carolina A&T so most of the scoring for the Ravens falls on Plouck and he has responded.
Plouck’s 25.7 points per game is fourth in the state but he, like Verdugo, found it difficult score early and was held to only three points in the first half.
Plouck eventually finished with a game-high 18 points but Walden Grove couldn’t make the comeback despite cutting the lead down to 40-38 with 6:10 left in the game. One main reason was the absence of starting point guard Jack Plouck to illness.
Jack is Grant’s sophomore brother and he averages almost 13 points a game besides his role as ball distributor.
“I could have played a lot better,” Grant said. “Jack plays the point which frees up the wings but it’s still hard to win if we don’t play defense.”
Walden Grove outscored Empire 18-7 in the final 5:22 of the game for the 58-45 win. The win gave the Ravens a 9-7 record overall, 4-4 in ranking games and 2-3 in section games.
“We are really young with six sophomores,” Verdugo added. “We are gritty and tough and we are trying our best to make it to state for the first time.”
Verdugo’s freshman brother Chase added scored 12 points while Moises Aramburo added 14 and Anthony Saunders scored 10.
Grant Plouck is now at 1,645 career points with a game at Cholla scheduled for Friday. He needs six points to break the school record.
“It’s exciting but at the end of the day I want to win,” Plouck added.
Empire fell to 15-9 overall, 8-4 in ranking games and 3-3 in sectional play. The Ravens have a favorable schedule the rest of the way and the team needs to win to remain in the top 24 in Division III.
Justin Lohnes scored 8 points to go along with the 18 scored by Plouck.
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Andy Morales was recognized by the AIA as the top high school reporter in 2014 and has been a youth, high school and college coach for over 30 years. His own children have won multiple state high school championships and were named to all-state teams. Competing in hockey, basketball, baseball and track & field in high school, his unique perspective can only be found here, on AZPreps365.com and on the pages of the Vail Voice and the Tanque Verde Voice. Contact Andy Morales at AMoralesMyTucson@yahoo.com