By Ed Nunez
It was late in the third quarter 39 years ago, and the undefeated St. Pius Sartans were in trouble. The team had not found themselves behind in many games, and here they were, down to the Deming Wildcats in a 5A semifinal by nine points.
“Coach Bill Duffey called a time out, and assistant coach Lincoln Galassini took me and forward Mike Higgins aside and told us to get our heads straight, that we were the best team on the floor. From there, we went on a 21-0 run and never looked back,” said Ron Beach, the star of the undefeated, 1980 5A champions.
Galassini woke us up, like a boxer who is punch drunk and you get the smelling salts,” said Beach. “We hadn’t really played a close game all year; 6A Eldorado had taken us down to the wire and guard Randy Ney had hit a last second shot against West Las Vegas for us to win, but other than that, we had cruised until we met Deming.”
“Deming had these two kids David Caldwell and Paul Maness who gave us fits; we just could not stop Maness. He fouled out with four minutes left, and everything changed,” said former St. Pius head coach Bill Duffey.
Duffey, who was the Albuquerque Tribune coach and state coach of the year in 1980 and whose Sartans also won titles in 1982 and 1985, also said, “Ron was the 5A and Tribune player of the year. I really felt that he and Bubba Jennings (Clovis, 1980) were the best players in the state that year.”
Beach finished with 31 points against Deming as the Sartans advanced by the score of 80-67. The final against Portales Rams was anti-climactic.
“I was familiar with Portales, because I had played two years at New Mexico Military Institute. They cut it to 12 at one point, but guard Greg Cheshire had a great game as did forward Rondie Turner, and Paul Koller rebounded very well.”
The Sartans defeated the Rams 75-50, to cap off a perfect season at 25-0, Beach scored 21 points. I remember going to Greg Cheshire’s house for the party afterward and seeing how happy my mom and dad were, I will never forget that,” said Beach. Beach’s father Joe, passed away in 2013.
“Ron was solid all year. He was even tempered, in control, he never panicked. When he needed to step up, he did,” said Cheshire, the team’s starting point guard.
Beach had a high game of 44 points against the Albuquerque Academy that year, and it might have been more, as he missed some free throws at the end of the game and it must be noted that this was a time before the 3-point shot.
“I remember that Mike Higgins and Rondie Turner were in foul trouble, I remember running the baseline and feeling like I could not miss. I was in a zone,” Beach continued. Beach was also named to the all-state team and was selected to participate in the North-South, all-star game.
“We had a reunion last January in Phoenix and all of the seniors (except forward Phil Caffrey, who was killed in an automobile accident, and Turner) were able to attend, it was great to see everyone had achieved some great personal success in their professional lives. We were also honored at the Pit in 2005 for the 25-year celebration of our championship,” said Beach.
Beach comes from a very athletic and competitive family. His older brothers, David and Kenny, were Valley high basketball standouts in the day, Kenny played college basketball at Tulsa; David played two years at San Mateo Community College and one year at New Mexico Highlands. His sister Sandy was an undefeated runner in the 800 meter at Valley high school and went on to be one of the premier runners in that event at Arizona State University. His younger sister, Renee, was a cheerleader, played basketball and swam at Valley high school. His younger brother, Roman, played one year at Valley, then transferred to Pius. He is the school’s second leading scorer, he also played collegiately at Bradley University.
“I remind Roman that he might be Pius’ second leading scorer, but he doesn’t have a championship,” Beach said.
His nephew Curtis (David’s son) is a highly-decorated track and field star who attended Duke University. Beach has a daughter, Jillian, who is a doctor in transplant surgery, and a son, Josh, who received his master’s from Yale in applied mathematics and statistics, so it seems that the apple does not fall far from the tree.
Beach was a State Farm insurance agent here in Albuquerque and moved to Phoenix in 1993. At age 37, he decided to “cash it all in” and go to law school.
“I had wanted to be either a professional athlete or a lawyer, so I went to law school and graduated by the time I was 40 years old. He practices civil litigation and insurance defense. Beach played collegiately at Southern Idaho and later, Alaska Anchorage. Beach played at Southern Idaho with former Lobo star, George Scott ( a frequent Enchantment Sports contributor) and the two worked together at State Farm for several years as well; they remain close friends to this day. They played against each other in college (see box score). “I had to stop playing basketball at 37, I had two meniscus surgeries on my right knee,” said Beach. The 57-year-old remains active, lifting weights and still running 10 to 12 miles a week. At 57, Beach is not anywhere near retirement, but does have an eye on the “golden years.”
“Maybe I’ll find a coaching position somewhere, give back to the game that gave me so much,” said Beach.
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.