By CASEY MUSE JR.
The Pima Community College men’s basketball team (22-11, 13-9 conference) found the postseason magic to advance to the NJCAA Division II tournament. This is the Aztecs’ first trip to the big dance in eight years.
The Aztecs won in the first round against a team from Illinois on March 21 and will face No. 1 seed Southwestern Community College of North Carolina on March 23 at 11 a.m.
March 8: PCC 119, Glendale 111
Pima outlasted Glendale Community College in a high-scoring affair at home in the Region I, Division II semifinals.
The No. 2 seeded Aztecs took an early 22-11 lead and never looked back.
The team made their first six threepointers to lead by 21 points. No. 3 seeded Glendale showed fight in the final minutes of the first half to cut the lead to 57-48 at the break.
An early run by Glendale in the second half cut the lead down to two points but PCC showed poise to put the game away.
Six Aztecs scored in double figures.
Sophomore Deion James scored a teamhigh 25 points and added 11 rebounds for his 18th double-double on the season.
Freshman Alize Travis scored 23 points on five-for-seven shooting from the field. He added 15 assists and six steals.
“It was very important to stay calm when the game got close,” Travis said. “Even when momentum is not on your side in the moment, you have to know how to respond and keep playing. Staying poised is a major key.”
Sophomore Damon Dubots contributed 19 points and 12 rebounds.
With the win, the Aztecs earned their first Region I, Division II championship game appearance in seven years.
March 10: PCC 102, Phoenix College 99
The No. 2 seeded Aztecs captured their first Region I, Division II championship since 2009 in a close game on the road against No. 1 seed Phoenix College.
The Aztecs were able to sustain a 51-49 lead at halftime.
Phoenix College began the second half on a 10-3 run to take a 59-54 lead. The Aztecs once again showed poise in the big moment, responding with back to back three-pointers to regain the lead.
The game went back and forth the rest of the way as the teams saw eight lead changes in the second half.
In the end, it came down to free throws. James hit a clutch pair to give Pima a 100- 96 lead with 9.8 seconds remaining. The defense held on to seal the victory.
Sophomore Emilio Acedo lead the way as he scored a team-high 27 points shooting six-for-nine from three-point range.
James scored 27 points and added 12 rebounds to earn the Most Valuable Player award for the game, after earning his 19th double-double of the season.
The victory was head coach Brian Peabody’s first region championship since taking over at Pima.
March 21: PCC 93, Waubonsee CC 84
The Aztecs took control early in their first-round NJCAA Division II Men’s basketball tournament game against Waubonsee Community College of Illinois.
Pima began on a 12-2 run to take a double- digit lead just minutes in.
The Aztecs maintained the lead on their way to a 40-30 halftime lead.
PCC busted the game open at the start of the second half as Acedo drilled two key three-pointers to help the Aztecs go on a 14-4 run and secure their largest lead of the game.
Waubonsee showed fight but could not battle all the way back.
Acedo finished the game with 14 points after making four three pointers.
James found his stride in the second half and led all scorers with 31 points, shooting 13-for-13 from the free throw line.
Dubots amassed nine points and 11 rebounds.
No. 1 seed Southwestern Community College beat Southern Maryland to face the Aztecs in the quarterfinal game.
Southwestern CC are just short of being undefeated for their season, losing only to Kirkwood CC of Cedar Rapids.
By CASEY MUSE JR.
Sophomore big man Deion James has sparked the Pima Community College men’s basketball program this season with both his play on the court and his swagger off it.
No, not his “swag.” Swagger in the sense that James keeps things professional while remaining approachable and light-hearted.
The kid carries himself in a way that is unique but respectful. His personality and demeanor reflect those who raised him.
“My dad has been my biggest influence,” James said. “He has always been a coach on the sideline and throughout life. He has helped me a lot, not only in the game of basketball but in life as well.”
James developed an ealry love for basketball.
“I got my first basketball for Christmas when I was like 3 years old,” he said. “I carried it with me everywhere.”
A year later, James played his first competitive game. “At the age of 4, my dad put me in my first YMCA league,” he said. “I was a goofy kid who was just running around trying to play defense and steal the ball the whole time.”
James grew up in Vail and received his first opportunity to be a student-athlete at Rincon-Vista Middle School. “My middle school years really served as a transition into my high school years,” he said.
“My middle school coach ended up being my high school coach. I also knew a majority of my teammates from playing with them in middle school.”
The seamless transition helped James make the varsity team his freshman year at Empire High School.
“I actually played a good amount of time my freshman year,” he said. “I think I even started a couple games.” James became the face of the basketball program at Empire, which enjoyed a good reputation for academics and technology but had never really been known for its athletics.
“It was exciting for me to say that I helped a team and school achieve so many goals like that,” he said. “During my time there, the students were a lot more involved. The environment and energy were always great.”
James also helped Empire establish a respectful but heated cross-town rivalry with Cienega High School.
“All of us have bought into
what coach says, and that’s what
makes … us a family.” Teammate Jacob Anastasi
“All of the Vail kids grew up together,” he said. “We were the little brother of Vail and Cienega was the big brother. They had been there before and established their athletics programs while we were still new to being so relevant.”
The rivalry culminated during his senior year. “The two games we played against them were probably the two biggest basketball games ever played in Vail,” he said. “It was really great for the community.”
By graduation, James had become one of Tucson’s most sought-after Class of 2015 prospects. He commited to play basketball at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, North Carolina.
“That was a good experience overall,” he said. “No complaints.”
However, James left North Carolina A&T after his freshman season. “I just knew that to be the player I wanted to be, I had a better chance somewhere else,” he said.
PCC head coach Brian Peabody recruited James right away, and James accepted Peabody’s offer.
“I had a few options at that time but I really felt like he could help me the most and our team here had the best opportunity to win,” James said. “It was also great to come back home and be so close to my family again,” he said. “Everyone on the team was really cool and inviting to me as well.”
Teammate Jacob Anastasi called James a great player. “It’s nice having him out there because you know that he’s going to go grab 10 rebounds,” Anastasi said. “All of us have bought into what coach says and that’s what makes a program, that’s what makes us a family.”
James has proven to be an absolute monster at the community college level. He took on a leadership role early, and has averaged 20.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. He also has a knack for picking up double-doubles, posting a team-high 17 double-doubles.
“It just comes to me,” he said. “It helps me to get into the flow of the game when I am active, crashing the glass and getting put-backs.”
By EDDIE CELAYA
An internal audit of Pima Community College athletics department business practices found late deposits, lax internal controls and improperly stored athletes’ documents.
The audit said current studentathlete’s files are properly secured at the Downtown Campus, but older records dating to the 1980s are kept in two separate broom closets in the West Campus gymnasium.
In an on-site interview at the gym, PCC Athletics Director Edgar Soto acknowledged the issues contained in the report.
“All of these things are issues we asked to be addressed,” he said. “We asked for this audit.”
A Finance and Audit Committee composed of college employees and community members conducted the audit last year, and issued its final report on Dec. 2. The newest audit was a follow-up to a larger November 2015 audit.
The report notes that since the initial audit, Soto and other high-ranking administrators have “updated management corrective action plans to address issues identified” within the audit.
The recent audit found problems with the athletics department’s timeliness in depositing donation checks. Eight of the 68 donation deposits reviewed by the audit took 30 days or longer to deposit.
Soto said new controls are being put in place to avoid such long delays, and offered an explanation for some deposits seeming to take more than a month.
“Sometimes when a parent is donating, they write a check in their checkbook and they don’t get it to the coach for a week or two,” he said. “They might date it today, but don’t get around to actually donating for a little bit.”
Similarly, “sometimes coaches throw checks into their games bags and don’t get around to checking it all in for a few days,” he said.
The audit also cited delays in processing receipts from game concessions. On two occasions, “game cash receipts deposits were not processed within three business days per cash handling procedures,” it notes.
Soto said one evening of men’s and women’s basketball games lead to both violations. “I believe that was over Thanksgiving,” he said.
The audit section discussing records for former student-athletes said files were kept in an area where “unauthorized” persons had access to them.
During the on-site interview, Soto allowed the Aztec Press to examine the two storage rooms. Both were locked at the time of the interview and required a key to enter. One room required two doors to be unlocked.
Soto said only athletic department staff have access to the rooms.
“A lot of this stuff is archival materials and trophies,” he said. “All the student info, we are in the process of moving to Downtown Campus.”
Chancellor Lee Lambert, writing in an email sent to PCC employees, said Soto requested the audit “in the spirit of continuous improvement and to address issues revealed in a 2012 audit, prior to Edgar’s leadership role.”
Lambert said the athletics department has made progress on issues identified in both audits, and has developed a timeline for implementing remaining changes.
“Frankly, this demonstrates the importance of having multiple layers of assurance,” Lambert wrote. “While the process does not always work as quickly as we might like, our detailed system of checks and balances worked as it should.”
With the spring athletic season in full swing and both basketball programs closing out historic seasons, Soto hopes the audit and its findings help improve the department.
“We’re just trying to provide the community with an idea of what’s going on in athletics,” he said. “We are just trying to stay accountable.”
By RENE ESCOBAR
As the Pima Community College baseball team digs through the opening season schedule they face a 0.028 lower batting average than last year.
The Aztecs have 37 more games till their post season, after the Chandler-Gilbert game.
Feb. 18: PCC 5, Mesa 8
Manny Ramirez home runs as the Aztecs fall to No. 6 Mesa on Feb.18 at West Campus. In the first game, but weather permitted the second from being played and will be made up for a later date.
The Aztecs trailed 5-2 after the top of the third they cut into the deficit after a two-run RBI duble by Sophomore Erick Migueles. But could not capitalize with a runner on second with zero outs.
Feb. 21: PCC 0, Phoenix College 1 / PCC 2, Phoenix College 8
In the first double header of conference play, the Aztecs were swept by Phoenix at Kino Sports Complex.
Migueles started the Aztecs off strong in the second game of the double header with a solo home run.
Kino Sports Complex was the sight of the Tuesday night game “It’s awesome, great experience for the kids.” Assistant coach Ernie Durazo said.
Migueles finished the second game two for five along with a RBI and one scored run.
Sophomore Taylor Ferdinand had a dismal second game giving up five total runs, two of them earned he only pitched three and two thirds innings before being pulled.
He was replaced with sophomore Ernesto Romero, who allowed one earned run.
Feb. 24: PCC 7, Vancouver Island 0 / PCC 7, Vancouver Island 3
Aztecs get back on track posting back-to-back lucky sevens sweeping Vancouver Island University at West Campus.
Pitchers Jonathan Deeble and Andres Hackman combine for a shutout during the first game of the double header against Vancouver.
Migueles got the Aztecs on the board first in the first game with a RBI single. He would finish one for two at the plate.
In the second game the Aztecs were trailing by the third.
An offensive explosion rallied the team to the lead with a five run in the fourth inning to secure the win for the Aztecs.
Feb. 25: PCC 3, Paradise Valley 5 / PCC 3, Paradise Valley 1
Both games were tight contests as the Aztecs saw freshman pitcher Jose Contreras toss five strikeouts in a 3-1 win over Paradise Valley.
Freshman Isaac Lopez continued the pitching dominance earning the save with one strikeout.
In the first game the Aztecs cut the into the lead in the fourth inning, making the score 3-2. But Paradise Valley halted the come back by scoring two runs.
In the second game the Aztecs provided just enough offense to take the lead and pitching kept the lead for the Aztecs.
Sophomore Oscar Larranaga finished the second game with two RBIs going two for four at the plate.
Freshman Marcus Mendez went two for three at the plate with two runs scored.
Migueles finished the game one for four with an RBI along with a solo home run.
Freshman Gage O’Brien pitched for two innings with two strike outs and three walks.
March 4: Glendale CC, West Campus, doubleheader, noon, 2:30 p.m.
March 7: GateWay CC, Kino Memorial Stadium, doubleheader, 4 p.m., 6:30 p.m. March 11: at Yavapai College, Prescott, doubleheader, noon, 2:30 p.m.
March 14: Monroe CC, Kino Memorial Stadium, doubleheader, noon, 2:30 p.m.
March 17: Madison Area Technical College, West Campus, noon
March 21: at Scottsdale CC, doubleheader, noon, 2:30 p.m.
March 23: Mexico, Kino Memorial Stadium, 11 a.m.