Featured photo: Omar Dominguez takes a shot. (Grady Barrens)
By Ed Nunez
Enchantment Sports Staff Writer
In 2017, it had been 51 years since the Pecos Panthers had won a boys basketball championship. The Panthers broke through in a big way that year, defeating the
Santa Rosa Lions by the score of 60-49. Pecos repeated in 2018 by beating the Texico Wolverines by the score of 58-44 and now face the very large task of repeating as the 2A champion for the third year in a row.
For Pecos head coach Ira Harge Jr., (who has gone 71-7 through 2-plus seasons), winning three in a row is a daunting task indeed.
“In 2017, we beat Santa Rosa three times; 2018 was a little more difficult. The pressure was greater, you are the top dog,” said Harge. “We hadn’t played Texico at all last year until the championship, and we beat them 58-44 for our second consecutive blue trophy.”
The 2A top-ranked Panthers did not gain the No. 1 ranking this year until a 79-47 dismantling of the then-top-ranked Wolverines at Texico on Feb. 9. The two top-ranked teams in class 2A met again Friday night in Pecos and, again, the Panthers prevailed 55-46, making it the third-straight time they have defeated their rivals.
The Panthers enjoy balanced scoring led by junior forward Xavier Padilla at 19.2 points per game. Senior guard Omar Dominguez averages 14.4 points a game, junior post Ismael Villegas averages 11.7 points per game and junior guard Anthony Armijo, averages 10.4 points per game.
“We play up tempo, we use the 3-ball as a tool., We have guys who can shoot it as well as spread the floor,” said Harge. “We lost three really good starters from last year, we did have a pretty good summer, these kids have exceeded my expectations, they share the ball well.”
Harge was part of a state championship with the St. Pius Sartans in 1982, and also played college ball at San Diego State and Denver University. Harge also was an assistant coach with his brother Joe at New Mexico Highlands.
“Ira was always a centered young man, and he is centered right now,” said former St. Pius head coach Bill Duffey, who coached varsity at Pius from 1980-1988. Duffey, whose Sartans also won championships in 1980 and ’85, said, “Ira has the perfect temperament to coach kids and is a special guy. He keeps rebuilding the program every year.”
Rio Rancho head coach Wally Salata was Harge’s teammate on the 82 championship team at Pius. “I want to thank Ira for coming late to the District championship in ’82. It was the only time I started in high school. In all seriousness, I knew Ira came from a great family and had the makings of a successful coach,” said Salata.
Harge Jr. is the son of the legendary former University of New Mexico men’s player Ira Harge Sr. “To watch him do what he does, it’s just bragging rights. He and his brother Joe and sister Cecilia have all won championships as coaches,” said Harge Sr.
Harge Sr., who was a part of an ABA championship with the Oakland Oaks as a player during the 1967-68 season and once pulled down 38 rebounds in one ABA contest. “I tell (Ira Jr.) that it is hard to win even one, almost next to impossible to win three, but it can be done. He has the kids believing in what they do,” said Harge Sr.
Harge Jr. identified junior guard Anthony Armijo as the fulcrum of the team,
someone who when they need a basket or leadership, steps up and takes charge. “Being a point guard is my role to set up plays and make sure everyone is in the right position,” said Armijo. “Coach prepares us, he’s real, he doesn’t lie to you, he won’t sugarcoat things, he’ll tell it like it is.
“Our chemistry is good; we’ve been playing together since elementary school,” Armijo continued.
Ira Harge Jr. knows pressure. “The pressure has been there the last three years, when these guys hit the floor, they are oblivious to anything, they just play. Just a few weeks ago (Feb. 14), we won at Santa Rosa 55-51. It was a hostile environment, and we grinded and pinched our way out of there,” said Harge. “If we are blessed and fortunate enough to win a third consecutive championship, it would be an amazing feat. The community would be elated,” said Harge.
Ira Harge Jr. has been surrounded by championship pedigree his whole life and winning a third straight title in Pecos, would cement his legacy in that community for many years to come.
Ed Nuñez is a play-by-play announcer for ProView Networks and a staff writer with Enchantment Sports. If you have information, tips or questions for Ed, please send to EnchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.