ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Five years later, it’s St. Pius and Albuquerque Academy once more.
Clovis-Hobbs, La Cueva-Eldorado, St. Michael’s-Hope — this represents a small sampling of New Mexico’s most familiar, and scintillating, boys basketball rivalries.
The Sartans and Chargers are proud members, too.
“I’ll put this rivalry against anybody’s,” St. Pius coach Damian Segura said.
This afternoon, St. Pius and Academy will step on the floor together for what Segura said is the 108th time. At 2 p.m. at the Pit, the second-seeded Sartans (25-4) and the fifth-seeded Chargers (18-10) will square off for the Class 4A title.
“It’s a one-game scenario,” Academy coach Roy Morgan said. “Anything can happen.”
The Chargers haven’t won state since 1994. That was the last of the program’s magical six-year domination of what was then Class 3A.
Morgan was an assistant to Mike Brown for all of those. This will be his first championship game as Academy’s head coach. With his multiple rings, he was asked what wisdom he might impart today to his players.
“I told them to treat it as a normal game, not to get caught up in all the emotion,” Morgan said. “Usually, the team that settles down first is the one that has the most success.”
On the West Side on Friday afternoon, Segura’s sentiments were almost verbatim that of Morgan’s.
“We have to really approach this like a regular game,” Segura said. “And we’ll have a chance to win if we don’t get caught up in all the other stuff.”
St. Pius’ last 4A title was 2008, when it beat the Chargers in the final.
The Sartans swept the 2012-13 season series, although Academy had the ball in its hands at the end for a potential game-winner in the most recent meeting. The Sartans escaped with a 49-48 win.
But Academy has impressed this week with upset victories over No. 4 Bernalillo and top-ranked Roswell.
“We’re playing really confidently right now,” Morgan said. “We lost that district tournament game (in the semifinals) to Moriarty, and from that point on, we have practiced with a lot more purpose.”
The Chargers won seven games last season, one by forfeit, and missed the state tournament. Morgan sent a very young team out then, expected to receive dents against a schedule filled with 5A programs and planned for the future.
With a more favorable schedule, Academy improved to 18 victories and is now 32 minutes from a state championship.
“It’s a bit shocking, to be honest,” Morgan said of the dramatic one-season turnaround.
“But we decided we were gonna bite the bullet and learn and mature, and we took some beatings. We were hoping it would get us ready for this year. They’re starting to grow up and starting to feel they belong, and we’re playing like it.”
Nic Stafford, at 6-foot-3 St. Pius’ tallest player, and guard Micah Sanchez lead the Sartans in scoring at about 14 points a game.
Junior post Chris Martin (13.5 points, eight rebounds) is a force in the paint for the Chargers.
The Class 3A boys final at 10 a.m. today is a much-anticipated showdown between the top-seeded Huskies (19-11) and second-seeded Horsemen (19-11).
St. Mike’s beat Hope Christian 31-30 in the final a year ago, a game that became wildly controversial because of a clock operator’s error at the end of the game that benefited the Horsemen, who won it with two late free throws.
At 4 p.m., No. 1 Clovis (29-2) meets No. 2 Mayfield (28-2) in the girls’ title game.
At 8 p.m., the curtain comes down on the season as No. 4 Clovis (23-6) and No. 6 Las Cruces (23-7) meet for the boys’ crown.
Neither the Wildcats nor Bulldawgs have won a state title since the 1970s.
No. 3 Dexter (27-3) and No. 1 Laguna Acoma (28-2) get today’s long procession of championship games going, at 8 a.m. in the Class 2A boys’ title game.
Both of the Class 1A finals are also today.
At noon, it’s the girls from No. 5 Melrose (17-14) and No. 6 Logan (21-8) after those two eliminated the top two seeds, Tatum and Cliff, on Thursday.
At 6 p.m., No. 1 Cliff (28-1) meets No. 2 Hagerman (24-6) in the boys’ 1A final.