The Tijuana Zonkeys just finished up a two-game series with the Nauticos de Mazatlán at the Auditorio Fausto Gutierrez, in Tijuana.
The two-game set had a pair of contrasting games that made up an intriguing series. The ‘Burro-Zebras’ lost one game and won one game against a tough opposition. Tijuana had some fresh players and some missing leaders throughout this series which made for some interesting moments in this series.
Game 1: Uneventful Game Ends in a Disappointing loss
The first game of this two-game set was one of the most slow-paced and low-scoring games in the CIBACOPA this season. David Abramowitz was going to be without Luis Ramirez and Marcus Morrison for the game. Ramirez was suffering an injury, while Morrison was serving a six-game suspension. The two are among the more experienced players on the Zonkeys and it was going to be a blow for the border city side. San Diego native, Dalante Dunklin, was playing in his fifth game with Tijuana and his first home game. Youngster and Tijuana native, Cesar Martin Del Campo, was replacing Marcus Morrison in the starting five, while the usual roundup of Leon Gibson III, Trayvon Lathan, and Karim Rodriguez made up the remaining players in the starting five for David Abramowitz.
The uneventful encounter commenced in Tijuana and the final score after the first quarter was 18-15 for the visiting side. The Zonkeys brought it back in the second quarter and were ahead in the score heading into the fourth quarter. The game was still very slow-paced and low-scoring heading into the final 10 minutes of the game, with the Zonkeys up 51-47. The game was mostly a physical encounter with both teams battling to have the basketball. Mazatlán got the better of that duel, winning the game 75-70. While there was a decent crowd at the Auditorio, the fans were not as engaged as in other games due to the slow-pacing of the encounter.
The top scorers for Tijuana in the first game of the series turned out to be Leon Gibson III and Dalante Dunklin. Gibson finished the game with 14 points and nine rebounds while Dunklin had 13 points, five rebounds, and three assists. A big downfall for the Zonkeys in this game was the inconsistency from long range, going 4-for-21 collectively in three-point opportunities. The game was a disappointing encounter in general and was really a bad result for the ‘Burro-Zebras’, especially in front of the home crowd.
After the game, Tijuana’s newest signing, Dalante Dunklin, spoke to EVT Sports about the game and his overall experience with the border city side so far. On his outlook on the game, Dunklin said, “I just think we didn’t come out with the energy we should have come out with. We didn’t defend too well, starting off with me. I let too many penetrations deep into the paint.” When the San Diego native was asked if Mazatlán has been the toughest opponent he has seen so far, Dunklin said, “Nah, not at all. Like I said, we just came out and we just didn’t have the energy we should have had. We came off a good road trip and I think us playing so well there, we kind of let our guards down coming into this game. It affected us. We didn’t really win any quarters. It wasn’t the kind of basketball we wanted to play”. The point guard also gave his opinion on the atmosphere at the Auditorio Fausto Gutierrez. Dunklin said, “It’s good, the energy is great, the fans are awesome. We’re just disappointed we didn’t get the game that they came and paid to see. That’s on us”.
The fresh signing then talked about his experience so far with the Zonkeys and on his takeaways from the CIBACOPA league. On his experience with the Zonkeys, Dunklin said, “It’s been good. It’s been, well, I wish I had shot the ball a little better, but getting used to playing five-on-five again, but the team’s been great, they’ve welcomed me in. They’re telling me to be aggressive and to score when I have the opportunity, so that’s helping”.
Finally, Dalante gave his thoughts on the CIBACOPA and how he is adjusting to it. Dunklin said, “It’s definitely a tough league. It’s a big boy league if you’re not as strong, mentally tough, savvy they’re going to expose you, but I’ve been adjusting pretty well to it, so it’s not too bad”.
Game 2: Eventful Game Ends in a Huge Victory
Before tip-off, there was already several questions to be answered. There was an unknown player that was in the shoot-around for the Zonkeys prior to the start of the game. By tip-off, it became clear that the Zonkeys had made another signing to strengthen their team. David Abramowitz had acquired former Villanova player, Dominic Cheek. Cheek was in the starting five for the game along with Dalante Dunklin, Leon Gibson III, Trayvon Lathan, and Karim Rodriguez.
Right from the start, the encounter felt faster-paced and much different from the first game of the series. The Zonkeys started out with the lead, ahead 24-21 after the first 10 minutes of the game. The game had several momentum shifts, and by the half, Mazatlán was leading 47-39. Going into the fourth quarter, the Zonkeys regained the lead, going into the final 10 minutes of the encounter up 73-67. The fourth quarter brought a plethora of thrilling moments with three-pointers and slam dunks all over the court. The fans were far more engaged in this game, and how could they not if the quality of the basketball being played on the court was tremendous. The game ended in a spectacular 108- 95 win for Tijuana.
Trayvon Lathan, who is currently serving as the captain of the border city side, played a huge role in the game. Lathan scored 31 points with eight rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. Leon Gibson III achieved a double-double in the match, getting 21 points and 10 rebounds. The bench also played a vital role in the game with Cesar Martin Del Campo and Jose Carlos Zesati combining for 18 points and seven rebounds. The bench collectively achieved 20 points, nine rebounds, and six assists. The win was a solid team effort with points and contributions coming from all over David Abramowitz’ team.
The fresh signing, Dominic Cheek was in a league of his own during the game. The former Villanova player was phenomenal coming fresh off an eight-hour flight to Tijuana. Cheek achieved a double-double in the encounter, coming away with 26 points and 13 rebounds. Cheek did mention what the strongest part of his game was after the game, Cheek said, “The strongest part of my game is driving in, shooting threes”.
The ex-wildcat demonstrated this in the game beautifully, going 5-for-10 in three-point opportunities. At one point, Cheek made three consecutive three-pointers and found his groove fresh off the plane with his new team in his new surroundings. Dominic did talk about how he felt after the game. Cheek said, “I feel good, fresh off the plane, try to get the team a win, try to get us to a championship. The atmosphere was great. I love it.” Dominic Cheek is an exciting player that will certainly help the team going forward and it will be intriguing to see what he can do in the CIBACOPA. Tijuana is on the right path with these new signings and is now in fourth place with an 11-6 record. The ‘Burro-Zebras’ next stop will be a two-game road series in Guasave, Sinaloa before returning home for four games. Vamos Zonkeys!
Francisco, 26, Chula Vista/Tijuana. I have been a Padres fan all my life, did most of the series previews and recaps in the Padres’ 2016 season for EVT. Now I focus more on the local soccer scene. Tijuana Xolos, San Diego Loyal, San Diego Wave.