It was nothing short of a classic in the Class 5A big-school boys championship game.
Santa Fe High School was one win away from completing a dream season, but their first title appearance since winning it all in 1978 ended in a 61-58 loss to Atrisco Heritage Academy March 16 in front of an estimated 14,000-person crowd at Dreamstyle Arena-The Pit.
The sixth-seeded Jaguars (22-7) repeated as state champions behind 22 points from Joziah Ramos and a 3-point barrage from Dominic Rivas, who sunk all six of his nine field goal attempts from deep to total 18 points.
“I will tell you this, we’re not done yet,” Atrisco head coach Adrian Ortega said. “We’re going to enjoy this, but we’re a very focused program.”
Aside from the production of Ramos and Rivas, Atrisco’s focus, along with aggression and determination throughout the duration of the game paid off in the end.
The Jaguars shot 21 free throws on the night and made 17 to shoot 81 percent. 19 of those total attempts came in the second half, compared to Santa Fe, who made all their free throws but only shot a mere six all night.
Atrisco ended any hope of a Demons’ comeback by sinking 11-of-14 (six in the final 43.5 seconds) from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter to protect a 42-40 lead entering the final stanza. Isaiah Brooks made the biggest two with 1.9 seconds remaining in the game and the following desperation shot from half court by the Demons’ Cody Garcia to send the game to overtime fell short.
The Demons held their last lead of the game at 54-53 after a pair of Antonio Lovato free throws with 2:30 remaining, but a following missed 3-pointer by Santa Fe’s Carlos Dassaro opened up the stage for Atrisco’s clutch free throw shooting down the stretch.
“We had the guys we wanted shooting the ball,” 1998 Espanola Valley graduate and Santa Fe head coach Zack Cole said. “They just didn’t drop.”
Santa Fe’s balanced scoring column was highlighted by 14 apiece from Lovato and Garcia and 10 each by Dassaro and Cruz Martinez.
Class 3A: Hot Springs High School 56, Santa Fe Indian School 54 (OT)
In the 3A championship, free throws were also a factor, but it was misses at the line that all but ended a chance for Santa Fe Indian to claim its first state championship since 1989.
The Braves of that year defeated Hot Springs 55-52 in the 2A championship, but fast forward 30 years in the rematch, and it was nine missed free throws that doomed the fourth-seeded Braves (20-12).
Amazingly, the Indian School didn’t reach the foul line until the fourth quarter, but once they finally did, they went on to only make 7-of-16 attempts in the quarter and overtime.
“Our nemesis showed its neck tonight,” Indian School head coach Jason Abeyta said. “Man, we just did not knock down free throws. I talked to the boys in the locker room right now and I know it’s hard on them what happened, but it just came down to us missing free throws.”
No. 3 Hot Springs overcame a 28-14 first half deficit and the final four points they scored of the second quarter to make the halftime score 28-18 proved to be crucial momentum-wise.
The Tigers (27-4) came out hot out of the locker room and outscored the Braves 20-8 in the third to lead 38-36 entering the fourth quarter, staging the closely-contested contest that ended in Hot Springs shooting 5-of-8 from the free throw line in overtime to seal the win.
“We knew it all along,” Hot Springs head coach Derek Bean said about the comeback. “Sometimes, it takes a few motivational words to get their motor running, but they never quit. We trusted the process, ‘We over me,’ and fell in love with defense.”
Class 4A: Valley 37, Los Lunas 34
Valley pulled off the upset of No. 1 Los Lunas, doing so as the No. 7 seed to become the lowest seed to win their respected bracket on both the boys and girls side in 2019.
The Tigers (27-4) missed out on two opportunities inside the paint in the final minute of the game to take the lead and none bigger was Bryce Santana’s shot from a foot away. It looked like a gimme, instead Derick Chavez swarmed toward Santana and elevated, blocking and sending his shot out of bounds.
The Vikings (17-13) regained possession with 2.5 seconds remaining and Chavez calmly sunk two free throws – his only points of the game – to seal it for Valley.
Los Lunas wasn’t the only giant that stood in Valley’s path toward a state championship: The Vikings also knocked off No. 2 Hope Christian in the quarterfinals and No. 3 Silver in the semis.
Valley shot 48 percent in the championship game and Seyi Oyeku led all scorers with 19 points.
Class 2A: Pecos 58, Newcomb 37
For the third consecutive season, the Pecos boys basketball team reigned supreme.
The first-seeded Panthers (27-3) let nothing stand in their way in route to their third straight state championship and took care of business to cap it all off by handling No. 3 Newcomb in the 2A final March 16 at The Pit in the first game of the final day at 8 a.m.
Pecos had an overtime scare against No. 4 Texico in the semifinals, but bullied their way past ice cold Newcomb, who jacked up 24 3-pointers and only made two. Pecos controlled the game down low by outscoring the Skyhawks (29-3) 36-12 in the paint.
The Panthers built their lead to 27-16 at halftime and extended the margin to 43-25 after the third quarter.
Xavier Padilla led Pecos with a game-high 22 points and Ismael Villegas had 12.
Class 1A: Melrose 54, Fort Sumner/House 50
The 1A battle featured a pair of teams both looking to repeat as state champions as No. 2 Melrose – the defending champion of the class – went up against last year’s 2A champions in No. 5 Fort Sumner/House.
Melrose built momentum early and led 10-4 after a quarter and took a nine-point lead (28-19) into halftime.
In the second half, Fort Sumner opened on a 12-3 run to get within a point with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter. They ended the quarter trailing 37-36, but Melrose went on a 12-2 run of their own in the fourth – highlighted by a Trace Jackson 3-pointer from the right wing – before Fort Sumner finally made its second bucket of the quarter with 2:36 remaining.
The Foxes were unable to live by the 3 and shot 5-of-35 from beyond the arc. Jude Segura scored a game-high 22 for Fort Sumner and Melrose was balanced by 15 points from Dylan Valentine, 12 from Tate Sorgen and 10 from Tristan Sena.