By NICHOLAS TRUJILLO
The No. 2 Pima Community College women’s basketball team (23-8, 16-6 conference) closed out their season on an early note after losing to No. 1 Mesa CC Thunderbirds.
Last season, the Aztecs overcame the Thunderbirds and made their way to third place in the NJCAA championship tournament. Last season, the Aztecs were also the No. 1 seed and Mesa was the No. 2 seed.
PCC played catch up for most of the game but didn’t rally in the second half.
March 7: PCC 86, Scottsdale CC 76
The Aztecs began play with an eightpoint deficit against the Artichokes. A shot from sophomore Sydni Stallworth relieved the playoff tension.
The first quarter ended with a 19-19 draw.
The second quarter saw freshman Izzy Spruit shoot four-for-four beyond the arc to give the Aztecs a double-digit lead that turned into a 52-38 lead at halftime.
After the break, the Artichokes came out of the locker room with a spark and outscored the Aztecs 23-17 in the third quarter.
The Aztecs responded with an 11-1 run in the fourth to secure their double-digit lead.
“Anytime you can win a playoff game you should always be excited,” head coach Todd Holthaus said. “No matter what happens in the regular season, the post season is always tough.”
Stallworth lead the Aztecs with 31 points, while Spruit had 12 points. Sophomore Erin Peterson finished with six points and a team high of nine rebounds.
“We had some rocky moments, we got too much in our frustrations when our shots weren’t falling,” Stallworth said.
March 11: PCC 72, Mesa CC 74
After charging to the championships for Region I Division II, the Aztecs faced defeat against the Thunderbirds.
After tip off, Mesa went on a 17-2 run to put themselves above PCC by 21-10.
The lead increased by halftime when the Thunderbirds outscored the Aztecs 46-29.
In the third quarter, the Aztecs were on fire going on a 16-6 run to cut the lead down to 60-52. Freshman Alliyah Bryant contributed a couple of threes, while Stallworth shot six-for-six from the free-throw line.
The fourth quarter saw sophomore Moana Hala’ufia hit a pair of free throws. A forced turnover lead to Smith hitting a three and Stallworth scoring off an offensive rebound.
The Aztecs made their way to a 72-70 lead, their first of the game, with 2:05 left.
Pima fouled Mesa with 3.7 seconds remaining, and Mesa hit just the first of the two free throws. Stallworth grabbed the missed shot, and was immediately guarded by three Mesa defenders.
Stallworth tossed the ball to Bryant, who passed the ball to Smith.
Smith found Hala’ufia for an open shot but the ball missed as the buzzer sounded, leaving Mesa the Region I Division II champion.
Stallworth finished with a game-high 22 points, while sophomore Bree Cates contributed 15 points.
“We had a tough game, we played hard but lost by two,” Stallworth said. “Second half we really came to play but they had a little bit more momentum than we did.”
In nine years, this is the eighth time Mesa and PCC have met in the finals. Each time, the home team has won.
This season marked the sixth season of 20-plus wins for Holthaus in his 10 years at Pima.
With the season over, NJCAA All-American Stallworth will move to Alaska to play for University of Alaska Anchorage, an NCAA Division I school.
Photo by Nicholas Trujillo
Sophomore Sydni Stallworth passes in the ball to her teammates against No.3 Scottsdale CC, during the NJCAA playoff game on March 7