Photo: Scoreboards create a lot of tears on both sides at this time or year. On Saturday, the Rio Rancho boys ended Gadsden’s season. The Rams head to the Pit for the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
By Russell Gurule
Memories are made of this.
This time of year, we all get to experience a wave of emotion as we reach closer to the finality of another high school basketball season. Parents who’ve sacrificed for their kids cheer a little louder. Coaches work a little harder as each possession is like a nugget of gold. Players give more than before.
For most schools, it’s either another night in Albuquerque or a long bus ride home. There’s elation in moving on, and there’s sadness, even some tears. It’s part of the scene of the first day of the high school state basketball tournament.
In the boys Class 5A field, the tournament opened at home sites on Saturday night with the higher seed being the host team. The winners all punched a ticket to Albuquerque for this week’ quarterfinals.
The first bracket pitted No. 1 seed Volcano Vista vs. No.16 seed Carlsbad. Volcano Vista took on the Cavemen and the pressure of being a No.1 seed to a resounding victory 58-42. The Hawks kept themselves in the driver’s seat with a team effort which has been the norm this season.
Up next are the Hobbs Eagles, who overcame the Clovis Wildcats with a 78-67 victory in the famed Ralph Tasker Arena. The Eagles avenged an earlier blowout loss to the Wildcats in district tournament play.
Expect the Eagles and the Hawks to have a battle royale. The Eagles are lead by Rae Tarin, Brundon Pettit, and freshman star Jalen Goar. With Hobbs tradition looming in the background, the new kid on the block, Volcano Vista, will need another team effort from Jalontae Gray, Jake Deatherage, and Dion Battle to reach the final four.
Our next bracket is a case of two top seeds playing without their best players. Santa Fe played Manzano before a packed house without sophomore sensation J.B. White. Eldorado, on the other hand, faces the task of making a tournament run without senior star Kameron Valencia. The Santa Fe Demons, with the help of Cruz Martinez’s 16 points and Carlos Dassaro’s 15 points, were able to overcome the inspired performance of Manzano’s Tyler Alen’s 20 points in the second half for a solid 69-55 victory.
On the other side of this bracket, Eldorado turned in a solid performance, coming away with a convincing 86-61 victory over Santa Fe Capital. Without Valencia, Eldorado head coach Ray Sanchez handed over the keys to the Corvette to Tyler Quintana, and boy did he drive it! Quintana came out firing from every spot on the floor with an array of different shots on the way to 31 points. Help was also provided by Deraje Agbaosi’s strong presence in the paint, denying shot after shot that came his way.
Expect Eldorado’s Eagles and the Demons of Santa Fe to have a shootout like the O.K. Corral. Both these two schools like to launch from 3-point land at a high clip. Neither team has anything to lose in this tournament as expectations aren’t as high as they are for Unser Road. Eldorado has plenty of size and skill at all positions. They are the dark horse of the tournament that nobody has been talking about.
The next bracket was Rio Rancho’s coming out party. The Rams defeated a feisty Gadsden team from Southern New Mexico 94-73. The press became the go-to play that gave the Rams a death grip on the game. Rio Rancho star David Patterson delivered a solid performance with 28 points.
However, key contributor Blaine Gallegos went down with an ankle injury and is day to day. Gadsden’s Kobe Barrientos, only a junior, gave a notable performance of 35 points. Keep an eye on Kobe for next season.
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Atrisco Heritage was up next with a contest against Eastern New Mexico power Roswell. The Jaguars started out early in the first quarter and never looked back, with top scorer Josiah Ramos pouring in 33 points. Elijah Gaxiola chipped in nine points as the Jaguars cruised to a 67-49 victory over the Coyotes.
Now, it’s a District 1 showdown as the Jaguars look to avenge two losses to the Rio Rancho Rams in district play. Expect a lot of defense as both squads will probably throw on the press to get the early edge. This game should be a coin toss. Atrisco will look to keep its back-to-back title hopes alive for another day.
Our final bracket had a major upset, and Cleveland’s Storm continued their march toward the Pit.
The Storm came with a storm in the form of Aamer Muhammad’s six 3s and 22 points. Jalen Nunn brought 16 points to the table. Cleveland’s balanced attack was too much for La Cueva with the game ending in a 77-59 Storm victory. La Cueva’s Derek Aielts finished with 26 points. Aielts will be one to watch next season.
Las Cruces Oñate took an ax to Las Cruces’ tree and it came tumbling down. The Bulldawgs of Las Cruces were riding high with an undefeated season and an expected showdown with District 1. That all changed within an instant as Oñate’s Ricky Lujan hit a free throw with just 0.7 seconds on the clock to give the Knights a 53-52 upset win. The loss sends the Bulldawgs home like 1991’s UNLV Rebels, who were undefeated until the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament when Duke ended their perfect season.
Lujan finished with a memorable performance of 29 points for the Knights.
Many questions have now arisen with Cleveland meeting up against Oñate. Will Oñate continue to chop trees? Will the vaunted Cleveland Storm continue its balanced attack towards its first state title? These questions and many more will be answered on Wednesday in the Pit as joy and sadness continues.
The madness marches on.
Russell Gurule was born and raised in Albuquerque and is a long-time resident. He graduated from Highland High and also attended Hope Christian. Russell is a long-time observer of New Mexico Lobo and high school athletics. Logistics is his day job. Basketball and politics are his passions. To contact Russell with comments or tips, please email EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com.