The game seemingly out of reach with Maricopa building a 19-point lead in the third quarter, Marana post player Bella Muscoreil, one of the top players in the state, sat on the bench covering her face, holding her forehead, as she looked down at the ground.
Muscoreil, a 6-foot-3 college hoops prospect who averaged 15.3 points and 7.5 rebounds this season, could only watch all game Tuesday night because of a concussion suffered in last week’s game against Nogales when an errant elbow struck the side of her head.
Not having her out there put Marana in a major funk at the outset of the Class 5A state tournament first round game with the Tigers scoring only five points in the first quarter before falling behind 26-13 at halftime.
“(Muscoreil’s absence) was a major impact,” said Marana coach Tory Perez, whose team finished 18-9. “She’s a major piece as far as setting up the offense, just being that girl who has a great IQ and knows when to get into quick spots where our younger girls unfortunately don’t.”
Two minutes into the fourth quarter, Muscoreil was on her feet cheering and the Marana fans started to make some noise. The Tigers scored the first nine points of the quarter to pull to 48-38 with 6:26 left.
The hole dug too deep with only 13 points in the first half, the Tigers could not claw all the way back. They eventually lost to Maricopa 58-48.
“We don’t stop. We won’t stop,” Perez said. “That’s just something we continue to work on with our condition, just keep working through it. That’s going to be a strongpoint for us in the future.”
Perez was not down and out. Junior guard Antoinette Audiss did not dwell on the loss, talking about summer ball instead. Muscoreil smiled when reminded she will be back on the court in two weeks working out with the Tucson Rattlers summer club team.
The Rattlers will be coached by Pima Community College women’s basketball coach Todd Holthaus, who is taking over that duty for Chris Klassen, who is still directing the program. Klassen, a former Pima assistant who started the Rattlers a decade ago, moved last year from Tucson to Galesburg, Ill., to be an assistant coach at NCAA Division III school Knox College.
One of the biggest pieces to Marana’s future is freshman forward Brianna Sealy, who is uncertain about playing beyond this season for Perez’s team. Sealy, who plays bigger around the basket than her 5-foot-10 height, finished with 10 of her team-high 13 points in the second half.
She led Marana in rebounding this season with 9.5 a game despite her youth.
Talented Marana freshman Brianna Sealy with the putback right before the end of the first quarter. The low-scoring game has Maricopa up 6-5 going into the second quarter. pic.twitter.com/DbT1daoeTd
“My dad’s in the military and he gets back in September, but he gets orders in May,” said Sealy, who faces the possibility of playing the last three years of her high school career in Colorado.
“We’ll have an idea by April but it will be official by May. I may have a choice, though. We’ll see.”
If Sealy does return — she confirmed she will play for AZ Supreme this summer — it will be difficult to imagine a team in the state with a better center and power forward combination of Muscoreil and Sealy next season.
Muscoreil will be a senior next season along with Audiss, Victoria Lynch, Alyssa Aranda and Emmalee Chapman. Those four juniors combined for 20 points against Maricopa.
Two consecutive layups by Marana's Ayanna Valles cut Maricopa's lead to 39-25. Now 41-25 with 1:42 left 3Q. pic.twitter.com/GAPt9vDfz3
Add the 13 points by Sealy and eight from sophomore guard Gabby Rojel and that’s 41 of the 48 points scored Tuesday night by players who might return next season.
Senior guard Ayanna Valles capped her career with seven points, all in the second half helping to fuel Marana’s late rally. Daniella Marin, a starter, has also exhausted her eligibility.
“It was definitely tough without (Muscoreil), but we overcame it and got under control,” Audiss said. “It felt good at the start of the fourth quarter. We weren’t backing down.
“We’re going to have some people step up next year from the other teams (junior varsity and freshmen). That’s all we can think about, just improve our game over the summer as well.”
Marana rallying down 50-40 with 5:03 left 4Q. pic.twitter.com/nx3KnmSvAh
Perez’s postgame message to his team was upbeat because of how his team kept fighting. A few players were obviously teary-eyed, including Sealy, but the general mood was positive when the players emerged from the postgame locker room.
“I’m happy. I mean, hey, we couldn’t have gone down any better,” Perez said. “I’m proud of the way they adjusted. We came out and we didn’t quit all the way to the buzzer.’
Also knowing most of his team is back next season — perhaps with Sealy — will allow Perez to move on from the loss to Maricopa and plan for next season.
“Hopefully we’ll take this loss and learn from it and grow from it, them as a team and me as a coach,” Perez said. “Brianna is just a flat-out, hard worker. She’s getting the skill the more and more we work with her.
“She’s definitely a major piece as far as coming in next year, if she stays. We’ll be ready.”