By Vincent R. Crawford
When Class 6A Metro Region rivals Laveen Cesar Chavez (20-4, 8-0 Metro) and the Phoenix Central Bobcats (18-7, 8-1) squared off for the third time this season, on Jan. 31, a close game was anticipated because the Champions won the two previous games by three points each.
Chavez beat the Bobcats 67-64, on Dec. 23, in the title game of the Phoenix Union Holiday Basketball Tournament, at Phoenix South Mountain. In the rematch, the Champions won once more, 78-75, but this time Central was the home team, on Jan. 10.
At Chavez, the Champions jumped out to a 19-6 lead midway through the opening period and never trailed as they defeated Central for the third time this season, 81-72, to claim the region championship with one game left in the regular season, at Alhambra (4-17, 3-6), on Feb. 7.
“The first game was nip and tuck the whole way and we made a big shot late to win it at the end,” Champions head coach Gary Lee said. “The second game we played lights out the first half and they played lights out the second half and it came down to the wire again. The game got kind of rough at the end. They have a lot of seniors and they tried to do big things, but we could not let it happen here.
“With our position in power points we could not afford a loss. There was a lot of stress on us. We are at the third seed and trying to maintain a top-four seeding that way we get two home games and do not have to participate in the play-in tournament.”
The game was basically won in the first quarter as Chavez outside Central by nine points, 22-13, which was the margin of victory. After the first quarter both teams scored 59 points the remainder of the contest.
Guard Donald Carter (19 pts.), forward Malik Porter (15 pts., 13 rebs., 4 blks.), guard Michael Rogers (14 pts.) and guard Joseph Samaniego (12 pts.) were the Champions’ double-digit scorers to offset the game-high 26 points tallied by Central guard/forward Jaquan Butler (12 rebs., 3 blks.). Center Buka Mbegbu (14 pts.) and guard Anthony Hightower (13) were the other Bobcats’ top scorers.
Rogers scored a lot of his points taking the ball to the basket against bigger opponents and that is no surprise to Champions fans as Rogers rushed for a state seventh-best 1,942 yards on the football field.
“I have a lot of physical ability for football, but I have put in a lot of training for basketball,” Rogers said. “I have a lot of training and mentoring from the coaching staff and I’m always working out and training and that’s how I’m able to do the things I do. This was a big win for us.”
Currently, Central is ranked tenth in Class 6A and needs help to avoid the play-in tournament which is for teams seeded 9th-24th. Those eight games will tip off at 6:30 p.m., on Feb. 10, at the site of the higher seeded team.