Juan Pablo Cervantes was fouled on a three-point attempt with five seconds remaining, then sank all three free throws to break a 68-68 tie as the No. 10-seeded Nogales Apaches boys basketball team defeated the No. 7 Cienega Bobcats on Wednesday in a playoff game in Vail.
The victory in the first full round of the 5A Conference state tournament means the Apaches will travel to Glendale on Friday to play the No. 2-seeded Ironwood Eagles.
Steven Legleu scored 29 points to lead NHS, and the Apaches used a 19-0 run to turn around a lackluster start to Wednesday’s game.
With Nogales trailing 41-28, Edgardo Zubiate hit a three-pointer with time running out in the first half to bring the Apaches to within 10 at the break.
Zubiate scored another three-pointer to start the third quarter, and Legleu followed with a three of his own. Nogales kept on scoring while shutting down Cienega, and by the end of the run, NHS was ahead 47-41.
The lead grew to eight points early in the third quarter, but Cienega battled back to tie the game at 59, 61 and again at 66 with 1:10 remaining.
A basket by Julian Grijalva put the Apaches back in front, but two free throws by Cienega’s J.T. Elder with 14 seconds left knotted the score once again, this time at 68.
On the ensuing play, Cervantes got free on the wing as Nogales brought the ball up the court, and he drew a foul as he shot from beyond the arc. His three free throws made the score 71-68.
The Apaches then intentionally fouled on the inbounds play, giving Cienega two free throws rather than a chance at a game-tying three pointer.
After making the first shot, the Bobcats’ Jose Santiago-Rivera intentionally missed the second. But his shot failed to hit the rim, giving the ball back to Nogales.
Cienega immediately fouled Eduardo Herrera, who made both of his free throws, though the second was annulled after an NHS teammate was called for a lane violation.
The mistake proved harmless, however, as the Bobcats missed a last-second shot, giving Nogales a 72-69 victory.
The win avenged the Apaches’ two regular-season losses to 5A South Region rivals Cienega.