No. 8 Cienega overcomes deficit, pulls away from No. 9 Buena in 5A first-round game

Cienega students rushed the court after the 64-53 win over Buena in the 5A state playoffs first-round game (Javier Morales/AllSportsTucson.com)

Cienega was down by nine points to visiting Buena with less than 4 minutes remaining in the third quarter Thursday night and the Colts’ whole section of fans who drove up from Sierra Vista was making a lot of noise.

Buena would not score from 3:47 left in the third quarter until 5:36 remained in the game — a devastating 6:11 stretch for the Colts in the 5A state tournament first-round game.

The noise level at Cienega’s gym, filled to at least 80 percent capacity, became louder by the minute of that stretch, reaching a crescendo on reserve Randy Carrillo’s consecutive 3-pointers as part of a 15-0 run for the eighth-seeded Bobcats.

The game ended with Cienega’s large student section rushing the court after the final buzzer sounded of the 64-53 victory, a complete reversal of what was taking place late in the third quarter.

It was Cienega’s first playoff win since beating Paradise Valley in the first round of the 2016-17 state tournament.

“I knew we’d come back; we haven’t lost at home all year — we were 9-0, now 10-0,” said Cienega first-year coach Jason Apodaca, who coached previously at CDO. “I felt really confident. There’s a lot of pressure with a state (playoff) game.

“‘Let’s take a deep breath (and) win the second half. Once we get the lead, no looking back.’ It’s exactly what we asked for.”

The victory over No. 9 Buena (14-6) puts Cienega (21-7) into the quarterfinal round Wednesday at No. 1 Campo Verde (25-4). The Coyotes were nearly upset by No. 16 Higley (9-16) on Tuesday night. They prevailed 46-44.

Cienega senior forward Mason Tippett, who had 22 points, was thinking about the worst-case scenario when the Bobcats fell down by nine points.

“I’m not going to lie — I was scared,” he said. “It kind of hit me that my senior season could be over. We could not let that happen.”

The game-turning 15-0 run for Cienega included a 3-point play by Gabe Proctor and four 3-pointers — one each by Proctor and Tippett and two by Carrillo.

Proctor’s shot from beyond the arc capped the rally with 6:43 left, giving the Bobcats a 44-38 lead.

Cienega’s defense forced Buena into 0-for-7 shooting from the field and four turnovers in the 15-0 stretch.

“Our coach at halftime, he told us we just have to play our hearts out,” said Tippett, who finished with 22 points. “It’s our gym. We haven’t lost at home this season. We’re 10-0.

“We came out here with our Bobcat pride. We were protecting our home.”

Buena cut the lead to 51-48 with 3:02 left on AJ Forrest’s putback, but the Colts hit another dry spell.

Cienega scored 10 unanswered points — eight of them on free throws by Ben Kmak, Tippett and Conner Bailey — to build a 61-48 lead with 51 seconds left.

“My assistant coach Chris (Peters) said we have to pick up the tempo, so we pressed a little more,” Apodaca said about the pressure applied during those 15-0 and 10-0 runs. “I thought that got us some buckets.

“Just all around, Mason Tippett was amazing. He’s a college player if guys haven’t seen him yet. He played awesome. But just the whole team, unbelievable — top to bottom.”

Seven different Bobcats scored, including Proctor with 12 points and Bailey with 10 (eight in the fourth quarter to help secure the win).

Buena was led by Forrest’s 17 points.

The Colts’ talented backcourt of Deandre Hawthorne and Ah’jzon Sieg had only one field goal made in the second half.

Hawthorne had 10 of his 12 points before halftime when Buena built a 31-23 lead. Seig finished with 11 points.


ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.

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