Led by sophomore Edgardo Zubiate, the Nogales Apaches took control of the second half of Friday’s rivalry boys basketball game with Rio Rico, turning a one-point halftime deficit into a 16-point victory.
Zubiate scored 17 of his game-high 28 points in the second half, seven coming during a decisive 45-second span in the third quarter that erased a four-point Rio Rico advantage and put Nogales ahead for good.
“In the locker room, they started telling us that we had to step up,” he said of the team’s halftime meeting.
“I told myself that I had to stand out and be in the moment. I felt it, and thank God, everything turned out well.”
Playing at home in front of a packed house, the Hawks took an early 9-4 lead on three-pointers by Rene Arvizu, Mario Alvarado and Sebastian Alvarez. They built their advantage to six when Elian Velasquez hit a three-pointer with 5:10 left in the second quarter.
Rio Rico didn’t score again in the half. Meanwhile, Zubiate drilled a three-pointer and Julian Grijalva sank two free throws to bring Nogales to within 16-15 at the break.
The Apaches took the lead on a drive by Steven Legleu in the opening seconds of the second half. But Oscar Leon was fouled while making a layup, then converted the free throw to quickly give the lead back to Rio Rico.
When Alvarado scored on an offensive rebound a few plays later, the Hawks led 23-19.
But within seconds, Zubiate, known as “Zurdo” for his left-handed shot, answered with a three-pointer to put NHS ahead by a point. He quickly stole the ball back and scored on a drive, then on the next possession, came away with the ball after a scrum at the Rio Rico end, driving the length of the court and put in a layup.
After many of Zubiate’s baskets, the large NHS student contingent would taunt their RRHS counterparts with chants of “He’s a sophomore!” At one point they regaled him with chants of “M-V-P!”
“Really, it was stupendous,” Zubiate said of the experience of playing in his first Nogales-Rio Rico rivalry game.
As for the atmosphere, which also included plenty of cheering and chanting from the Rio Rico fans, he said: “It was heavy. But you can’t let it get into your head and you keep playing.”
Buoyed by Zubiate’s third-quarter outburst, the Apaches steadily built their lead as the game picked up offensive tempo after the defensive grind of the first half. Nogales outscored Rio Rico 14-9 in the third quarter and 27-15 in the fourth to win 56-40.
“They made their run and we couldn’t stop it,” Rio Rico coach Frank Arellano said afterward, adding in reference to Zubiate: “We couldn’t stop that lefty. That lefty hit us up.”
Noting his team’s 28-percent field goal shooting on the night, Arellano said: “We had the shots, we just couldn’t make them.”
Alvarado was the high scorer for the Hawks with nine points, followed by Arvizu with seven. Issai Ramirez led the team with seven rebounds.
For Nogales, Legleu scored 12 points and Grijalva had eight points and seven rebounds.
Both teams are set to play in out-of-town holiday tournaments before returning to regular-season play in January.
Nogales, now 3-1, will next play at home on Jan. 14 against Sunnyside. Rio Rico (1-4) hosts its next regular-season game on Jan. 7 against Vista Grande.