Everything for the Escalante High School boys basketball team was on-script for the first eight minutes of their away contest Feb. 14 at Mesa Vista High School.
The Lobos pride themselves on their inside presence and ability to score points in the paint. There was no issue doing so in the first quarter, where Escalante led 14-11 after the conclusion and scored 10 of those paints from inside the 12-by-19-foot dimensional area.
Then, that production vanished and Escalante went an entire two quarters without a single point from the paint, but they were still able to overcome a seven-point third quarter deficit to rally to a 48-45 win over the host Trojans (6-17) inside Mesa Vista Gymnasium.
The man who swung the tide was Lobo guard Cortez Martinez, who hit two timely 3-pointers when Escalante needed it most. Trailing 38-31 with the third quarter coming to a close, Martinez drilled a deep triple from the left wing as time expired and followed it up with another to start the fourth.
The six-point swing brought the Lobos (15-8) within a point and helped bolster a 14-7 advantage in the fourth quarter to secure their comeback. Martinez finished with eight points, Anthony Ulibarri scored 10 and big man Dakotah Gonzales had a team-high 12 points, while Mesa Vista’s Damian Trujillo had a game-high 13.
“We knew they had some big kids and we were fronting them and trying to take it away,” Mesa Vista head coach Benito Maestas said about his team’s defensive strategy. “If they were going to beat us from outside, then they were going to beat us from the outside. Cortez hit some 3’s from about five feet from behind the line and he’s a hell of a shooter, a good kid and I like him a lot.”
While Escalante relied on the outside game for the second and third quarters, the paint presence returned in the fourth with eight points. No two of those were bigger than when senior Anthony Ulibarri took advantage of Alejandro Trujillo’s throw away turnover as the final minute of the game approached.
After gaining possession after the miscue by Mesa Vista, Ulibarri raced the other way to score while being fouled to put the Lobos ahead in what was the final score, 48-45. He missed the free throw following, which was one of eight misses for the Lobos in the quarter. On the contrary, Mesa Vista also missed four from the charity stripe in the final eight minutes and shot 50 percent (11-of-22) for the game.
Escalante was without starting guard A.J. Blea — who competed in a track meet in Idaho — and his absence showed in the turnover department as the Lobos coughed up 24 in all, with 20 by their backcourt players. Add in an 11-of-24 effort from the line and the inability to work the high-low, the Lobos’ head man knew his team was lucky to escape with a victory.
“If you put a scenario together on how to lose a game, we checked off all the boxes,” Escalante head coach Henry Gettler said. “Our boys found a way to tough it out. For the most part, the effort was there and I thought we defended really well.”
The continued missed free throws by Escalante gave Mesa Vista light, but two desperation 3-point attempts by Julian Quintana in the final 30 seconds to tie the game went by the wayside.
“I don’t consider it a good loss, but I was happy we competed,” Maestas said. “We played hard for almost the entire 32 minutes and that’s what I’ve been asking from the kids all year: just to go out there, play hard and compete. Throughout a lot of the year, we’ve just gone through the motions and that’s what’s frustrating for me. I don’t mind losing if we go out and play hard and the other team was just the better team.”
The better Lobos won their 11th game in the last twelve — the only difference was this game was the first in the stretch that was decided by single-digits. The next closest was their 25-point (57-32) victory over Mesa Vista Jan. 26 in Tierra Amarilla.
“It was a tough win and you need to find a way to get tough wins at this point in the season,” Gettler said. “I told the boys, ‘You’re not going to get easy wins anymore despite how good you think you are or how good we think we are. We’re going to have to play a lot of tough games from here on out, so learn how to do it now.’”
The Lobos followed suit Feb. 16 and earned another tough win, this time against Peñasco High School, 77-65, at home to improve to 16-8 overall and 7-1 in District 2-5A.