By Will Webber
Journal Staff Writer
As Gabe Sanchez goes, so goes the Rio Grande boys basketball team.
On Tuesday night in the South Valley, the Ravens’ star guard wasn’t going anywhere. He reached the halftime buzzer with a “0” next to his name in the scorebook for the first time this season. He did eventually score nine points, but it was an otherwise forgettable night for him and his Rio Grande teammates.
Not surprisingly, visiting Eldorado rolled to a 59-44 win in District 5-5A action.
The Eagles assume sole possession of second place as the district race reaches its halfway point. At 15-6, 3-1, they moved one game ahead of Rio Grande (13-8, 2-2) in what is considered to be the toughest district in the state. Sitting alone in first is top-ranked Manzano. Lurking in fourth place is No. 2 Highland.
Perhaps Rio coach Wally Salata summed up Tuesday’s game best when he berated his players during a timeout midway through the fourth quarter. He told them they were on the verge of a second straight blowout loss at home in district play, a loss that could spell the end of their regular season title hopes.
The Ravens went down a week before when Manzano posted a lopsided win.
Eldorado led by double digits for the game’s final 11 minutes. The margin grew to as many as 22. Seven of Sanchez’s points came with his team trailing by at least 14.
On this night, Sanchez was hounded by a host of defenders from start to finish. The most common Eagle in his face was Eldorado point guard Tyler McDonald. A lefty, McDonald matched every Sanchez move with one of his own on the perimeter. When McDonald ran into a screen — which the Ravens did a lot in an attempt to break Sanchez free — there to help was just about anyone else in an Eagles uniform.
Sanchez got his shots in the first half but failed to convert. In the early going it didn’t seem to matter as Rio built an 8-2 lead four minutes in. Eldorado finally got things going by turning to its deep bench. Cris Lozano and Gary Maestas scored a little more than a minute apart as part of a 7-0 spurt.
From there it was pretty much Ross Williams here, Ross Williams there. The 6-foot-3 Eagles forward finished with a game-high 17 points to go along with six rebounds and one blocked shot. He had seven points in the second quarter, helping his team open a 27-17 lead at intermission. He capped the night with six points in the final period.
What really turned the game around, though, was the second quarter. With Sanchez struggling, the Eagles erased a 15-11 deficit by closing the halfon a 16-2 run. The Ravens’ only points in the final 6:45 of the half were a pair of free throws by Francisco Reyes.
Eldorado’s go-ahead points came on a transition layup by Lozano. He got behind the Rio defense in the lane before corraling an entry pass from midcourt. He turned and put the ball in on an uncontested shot. It made the score 17-15. McDonald and Williams helped close the half with a combined nine points down the stretch.
Rio Grande never got closer than five points the entire second half.
Dominic Gonzales came off the bench to score 10 points to lead the Ravens. Zanchez, whose season-low was five points against Las Cruces on Jan. 10, was the only other Rio player with more than six.
McDonald and Daniel Strong each had nine points for Eldorado while Gary Maestas had eight.
All told, Eldorado shot 50 percent (26-for-52) from the floor while Rio was a mere 16-for-45.