Feature photo: Santa Fe coach Zach Cole, middle, gathers his Demons during a timeout during last season’s state tournament (Russell Gurule/Enchantment Sports).
For Enchantment Sports
As the 2019-20 high school basketball season begins this week — finally, for us hoop junkies — I can’t help but smile thinking about last March.
Ever drive down a dark road watching your headlights completely focused on what’s ahead? Then all of a sudden, out of the corner of your eye something appears? You ask yourself “what was that!?”
A deer, moonlight, or for New Mexicans… La Llorona? No matter what your imagination conjures up; you were left with the feeling of what was that?
Last season’s NMAA state basketball tournament had many “what was that?” moments.
A look back
Last March, things that might have seemed to be illusions weren’t after all.
That’s what made the tournament so fun to watch. Intriguing possibilities abounded everywhere outside the lines of a regulation court during the state tournament.
First, who would’ve thought Las Cruces Onate would pull off the upset of the undefeated Las Cruces Bulldawgs with less than one second on the clock? But then who would’ve thought that Las Cruces would be undefeated for the regular season going into the tournament?
If there is somebody out there that predicted an undefeated regular season happening, and ending with a loss in the first round, please raise your hand.
I’m sure many were waiting excitedly for a showdown between Las Cruces and Cleveland.
Instead the unthinkable happened. Onate’s upset of the Bulldawgs undefeated season was a truly remarkable “what was that?” moment.
Valley might get the top vote for a “what was that moment.” During the regular season, the Vikings played like the 4A state champion on one night and looked like a team in danger of missing the tournament the next night.
The Vikings made the tournament on a hope and a prayer. However, Valley made an incredible tournament run.
In the first round, the Vikings avoided an early knockout with a last-second layup to force overtime against Highland, then won in the extra period.
Basketball fans still didn’t believe in the Vikings, instead they were focused on a probable Los Lunas/Hope Christian final.
Yet, Valley just kept on surprising us with upset after upset. First it was Hope. Then Silver. Hoops fans still thought Los Lunas was the team to beat. Valley said, “What is that,?” and pulled off one final thriller against the Tigers.
Valley won its tournament games by an average of four points.
The biggest “what was that moment?” was Hope Christian going down to Valley. Hoops fans all had to look at their phones twice when the score was announced. Hope is the premier team in the state, and the Huskies were chasing their seventh straight blue trophy.
The Huskies state tournament-winning streak was 30 games before Valley ended that.
Santa Fe had its share of “what was that?” moments.
Other than the thousands of Santa Fe fans who packed the Pit, did anyone else pencil in the Demons for the championship game? Please raise your hand.
Without star JB White, many left Santa Fe for roadkill on the side of I-25. How could it possibly win a game, much less get to the title game without their best player?
Santa Fe proved the prognosticators wrong with so many great games, including a 55-49 “what was that?” victory over No. 1 seed Volcano Vista.
Unfortunately for the Demons, the magic ran out against Atrisco Heritage and the Jaguars won the title game 61-58.
There can be only one champion and for the other schools and communities they were left to driving back home thinking, “If only…”
If only Los Lunas won its first title ever. Unfortunately, the stars weren’t aligned for the Tigers. A great story, and a heartbreaking three-point loss to Valley had Tiger fans thinking about when it will happen.
If only Las Cruces had gone all the way with an undefeated season and state title? It would’ve been one for the record books. A story that would’ve been talked about for decades. What a possibility it was!
If only Hope would have won another crown, it would have been 17 — which would have tied Hobbs for most in state history.
Both Hope and Hobbs were in the 4A and 5A tournament respectively. What if Hope had won the 4A title to tie Hobbs, and Hobbs who would’ve played right after the 4A title game in the 5A title game had won the title? It would’ve meant that Hope and Hobbs would’ve been tied for as long as it took for Hobbs to warm up for the 5A title game. Ok so you get it. This type of scenario doesn’t come around very often. It would’ve been fun to see and talk about!
There were many more possibilities and that is what makes boys high school basketball so fun to watch. Last season’s tournament was one for the ages.
But guess what?
Next March could be even better.
District 6-4A will be a war with Hope, Valley, Highland and Del Norte going to battle each week.
Las Cruces will be on its redemption tour. Hobbs and Clovis will be intense as usual. Santa Fe will rule the north, and the Unser Blvd., rivalry between Rio Rancho, Cleveland, Volcano Vista and Atrisco will be as tough as ever.
Gallup will surprise, and Los Lunas is standing tall.
A special thank you to all the head coaches who gave us here at Enchantment Sports so much access during this year’s state tournament. We shared in your joy, elation, and sadness.
The offseason — the “improvement season,” as Los Lunas coach Travis Julian calls it — is over.
The March to March officially has officially tipped off — and the “what was that?” moments will be everywhere again.
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 of tips, please email EnchantmentSportsNM@gmail.com