Featured photo: Coach Wally Salata (kneeling in center) and his Rio Rancho Rams couldn’t stop District 1-5A rival Atrisco Heritage’s bombs on Wednesday. AHA won 77-58 and will face Cleveland, another 1-5A foe, in tonight’s state tournament semifinals.
By Russell Gurule
For Enchantment Sports
Pass the oxygen please.
Breathe, just breathe, is probably what most fans and coaches felt as the first day of boys state basketball tournament games in the Pit has been spectacular. We’ve had upsets, blowouts, and those classic back-and-forth games that go down to the last minutes. Great defensive performances and offensive outbursts that make your head spin.
SILVER VS. ROSWELL GODDARD: The day started right around breakfast time as our first 4A matchup was Silver vs. Roswell Goddard. This game was back and forth throughout the first three quarters until Silver was able to pull away in the end with a 54-50 victory to play for a spot in the final four. Jonathan Harris chipped in with 11 points while Tristan Moore played big with 27 points to lead the fighting Colts.
ELDORADO VS. SANTA FE: Our next game started around break time with our first 5A matchup: Eldorado vs. Santa Fe. The Eagles handed out many gifts in the form of 20 turnovers, thanks to the Demons’ press. Santa Fe’s Antonio Lovato and Carlos Dassaro led the way with 18 and 15 points, respectively. Eldorado’s Tyler Quintana, who has been on a long hot streak, finished with 26 points. But it wasn’t meant to be for his Eagles. Santa Fe held on with a 64-56 victory to move on to the next round.
CLEVELAND VS. LAS CRUCES ONATE: It’s now lunchtime, and the Cleveland Storm sat down to eat. Our second 5A matchup pitted Cleveland vs. the giant killers, Las Cruces Oñate. The game was a tight affair in the first quarter as the Knights gave their best punch. Then it was the Storm’s turn to put on the jets with a strong run to pull away. It was a team effort with Aamer Muhammad and Josh Tarry each scoring 18 points. Jalen Munn contributed 15 points as the Storm walked away with an 84-52 victory.
LOS LUNAS VS. TAOS: As you all know, it’s snack time. Our next 4A matchup was the Los Lunas Tigers vs. the upstart Taos Tigers. Zanen Zeller took a step back from the spotlight in a total team effort as four other Los Lunas Tigers scored in double figures, led by Darius Haywood’s 18 points. Los Lunas jumped out of the blocks to take a commanding lead and never looked back with a 66-46 victory over Taos.
VALLEY VS. HOPE CHRISTIAN: But the biggest surprise before dinner time was the third 4A matchup with district rivals Valley and Hope Christian. Hope Christian held a 3-1 record against Valley during the regular season. All indications were for another Hope run to the title. It seems as though we forgot that there was a game to play.
Taos coach Hernando Chavez had this to say about the 4A tournament: “The tournament itself is loaded with some very talented teams, a number of which that already got knocked out. Until someone can beat Hope in a State Tournament, which hasn’t been done in some time, I have to feel like they are the favorite. However if ever there was a year to see them go down this just might be the one, with all the parity that exists in 4A.”
Coach Chavez turned out to be on the money. The game bounced back and forth on the scoreboard until the second quarter with the Vikings grabbing a solid 11-point lead. Hope was not to be outdone as they fought back to tie at 51 with less than four minutes to go. The Vikings said no, this is our time.
Valley moves on with a surprising 61-57 victory over Hope, ending the Hope Huskies chances of seven state titles in a row. Valley’s Derick Chavez finished with 18 points. Seyi Oyeku added to this monumental effort with 15 points.
Los Lunas coach Travis Julian had this to say about Valley: “Valley was without some key guys for much of the season. At full strength, they are a scary team.”
VOLCANO VISTA VS. HOBBS: After all of this, there was still more basketball to be played. Volcano Vista met up with traditional power Hobbs in a game of “Hit me with your best shot.” Volcano’s Hawks had to battle with wave after wave of Hobbs’ famous press. This game, like a lot of the others played, bounced back and forth like a ping-pong ball until the third quarter when Volcano Vista grabbed the lead and held off repeated Eagles rallies. The Hawks, as they have been all year, were led by Jake Deatherage 11 points. Jelontae Gray added 12 points to help give the Hawks a 65-60 victory.
DEL NORTE VS. GALLUP: It’s happy hour, and Del Norte and Gallup gave us a show. It was a little bit of exchanging of leads and then the Knights were on their way. The rest of the game was catch-up time for the Bengals of Gallup, who never could get enough momentum to get over the hump. The Knights came away with the victory 55-49. Jordan Neilsen led the way with 16 points for Del Norte.
ATRISCO VS. RIO RANCHO: Now it’s a snack before bedtime game with Atrisco taking on Rio Rancho. Unser road combatants meet again for another battle. It was too close for
comfort in the first quarter until Atrisco came like a B-52 bomber, dropping 3s from everywhere to grab a commanding lead. The wizard, Joziah Ramos, and Isaiah Brooks dropped in 25 points and 13 points, respectively. The Rams of Rio Rancho fought valiantly to make a comeback with David Patterson’s dunk to bring Atrisco’s lead down to nine points in the fourth. Yet, Atrisco was able to shred the Rams’ press to finish comfortably with a 77-58 victory. DeMarcus Sutphen had a stellar defensive game. Patterson finished an excellent career with 29 points for the night.
THE TAKEAWAY: There are no more dark horses or Cinderellas. Everyone in this field of 4A and 5A could be considered a serious contender. We are now to the point where the cream is really rising to the top. The final four will be special. Something good is going on at the Pit. This is better than a movie. The madness marches on!