LAVEEN – The Cienega Bobcats are continuing to claw away for a spot in the playoffs as they opened the week on a high note with a win. In a gritty battle on Monday, Cienega was able to pull out a 63-60 overtime win over the Betty H. Fairfax Stampede in Laveen. Like the Bobcats, the Stampede are also fighting for a spot in the playoffs, and the importance of the game could be felt from start to finish.
“We struggled, but we had to find a way to get this win tonight,” Cienega Coach Daniel Filipowski said. “The guys continued to battle just as they’ve been doing all year long, so credit to them for sticking through it and believing in everything.”
It took a few minutes for each team to get settled on the court, but by the midway point, Cienega had taken an 11-7 lead. It didn’t take long for the Stampede to counter back and take a 14-12 lead before a bucket from freshman Xander Werner tied things up at 14.
“[Werner] has got a very good head on his shoulders,” Filipowski said. “He’s very humble and he definitely leads by his game. He takes us to the next level. The team follows [Werner] and he does a lot for us on the floor.”
As the second quarter got underway, the Bobcats were able to work their way out to a 22-16 lead off a bucket from junior Gabe Proctor, but once again the Stampede came storming back. With around two minutes before the half, Antwon Miles hit a corner three to give Fairfax a 23-22 lead.
Cienega and Fairfax continued to trade buckets in search of who would take the lead into half, with the Bobcats hitting the final shot to go ahead 29-28.
Coming out of halftime, Cienega looked to have the momentum on its side early as the Bobcats took a 33-29 lead on a pair of free throws. However, Fairfax put up a strong defensive front and really made it difficult for the Bobcats to drive to the hoop as their offense chipped away to a 34-33 lead midway through the third.
Just as it seemed Fairfax might be able to run away with it, junior Ben Kmak was able to hit a layup and get the whistle to stop some of the momentum behind the Stampede. After the Bobcats worked their way back to tie things at 39 towards the end of the third, Fairfax was able to knock down one final shot from downtown to close out the third leading 42-39.
Fairfax opened up the fourth quarter by drilling another three to make it 45-39 early in the fourth, leaving Cienega working its way back out of a hole once again. Continuing to cut away at the Fairfax lead, Kmak nailed a shot from behind the arc to make it 47-45 with 2:42 remaining.
The dukeout continued through the final minutes of regulation, with the Bobcats tying it up at 53 with two seconds remaining on a bucket from Werner to come back and force an overtime.
“We got together and we just talked about it,” Proctor said. “We said, ‘We’ve got to pull it together.’ We’re a family, so that’s what families do; Get together and talk about things.”
“It definitely shows the grit and the effort that these guys continue to bring all the way to the very last buzzer,” Filipowski said.
Werner hit the first shot of overtime to help Cienega set the tone early and give the Bobcats a slight edge in the back-and-forth battle. After Fairfax tied things up at 57 with 1:57 remaining, a technical against the Stampede put Kmak at the line shooting two, where he knocked them both down for a 59-57 lead.
From there, Werner hit one final shot before sophomore Moses Bahige hit two shots from the line to close the game out 63-60.
“I just stayed focused mentally,” Werner said, noting the music he listened to before the game helped get him in the zone.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games this year and unfortunately we’ve been on the short end of things,” Filipowski said. “We’ve had about five or six losses where one or two things could have gone our way and the result could have been different. We needed a win like this.”
“It only makes us a better team going through the final games, so we’re going to keep working,” Proctor said. “We always go through adversity, so it was just getting through that and working as a team.”
Leading the Bobcats in scoring on the night was Werner, who had 31 points, along with seven rebounds. Behind him was Kmak, who had 11 points and two assists.
“It just shows how much I care,” Werner said. “It shows how much I want to make it, and how much I want to make my team look good.”
As of Monday, Cienega (8-10, 2-5 in the 5A Southern) was No. 23 in the AIA’s 5A Rankings, while Fairfax was No. 28. In order to make the playoffs, teams must make the top-24. The top eight receive an automatic bye, while No. 9-24 have the play-in round.
Cienega closes out the season this week with two more road games. The Bobcats tip-off against Desert View on Thursday before closing things out at Cholla on Friday. Cienega has already picked up wins over both programs earlier in the season.
“We hope to look forward to closing out the season strong and this week with the last two games on the road,” Filipowski said.
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who started her career as an intern for a small sports website back in 2015. Since then, she’s obtained her master’s degree in Sports Journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at ASU and is in her fourth year of covering various levels of sports across a broad range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07