ALBUQUERQUE – Twenty-four Class A through 4A boys and girls squads from northern New Mexico began their march to the Pit roughly two weeks ago.
While some teams advanced to championship week, others weren’t as fortunate. But now, with just two days remaining in the season finale event, three area teams remain standing.
No. 2 Santa Fe (29-2) will take on defending champion No. 1 Los Lunas (27-4) tonight at 7:30 in the Class 4A girls state title game. On the boys’ side, No. 4 West Las Vegas (19-8) will face No. 1 Hope Christian (26-3) at 8 a.m., followed by No. 6 Lovington (15-14) versus No. 2 St. Michael’s (23-7) at 9:45 a.m.
DEMONETTES TO PLAY FOR STATE TITLE:
Jackie Martinez picked up the loose ball, clinging on to it for dear life.
Through three-plus years with the Santa Fe basketball program, the Demonette senior had endured season-ending heartbreak after season-ending heartbreak.
But not this year, she vowed.
With less than 10 seconds remaining in Thursday’s state semifinal contest, Martinez knew if she maintained possession of the ball – with Santa Fe protecting a 38-37 lead – long enough, she would be one game closer to making good on the promise she made as a freshman to her coach, Elmer Chavez. That promise was to deliver a state title to Santa Fe High.
“I don’t remember seeing how much time was left – I just knew it was several seconds,” she said. “I just grabbed the ball and I held on as tight as I could. Either a jump ball or a foul would have been fine. … Then I looked up and saw five seconds. Our coach looked us in the face … and said, ‘You get it in and hold that ball.’ ”
And after Martinez was fouled, the Demonettes successfully inbounded the ball, and ran the final 5.3 seconds off the clock. In doing so, the Demonettes have advanced to the state title game for the first time since 1997.
“I really don’t know what to say,” said Kayla Herrera, who led Santa Fe with 14 points. Martinez added: “This is surreal.”
But Santa Fe’s work isn’t done. Chavez said he remembered that promise Martinez made – and he’s going to hold her to it.
“I keep telling this team that it’s their destiny to win state this year,” Chavez said. “… I want these girls to enjoy a state championship. I was part of one with Grants in 1986, and I still remember every player on that team.”
In tonight’s championship contest, Santa Fe’s 6-foot-2 post Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage will see a heavy dose of Los Lunas’ 6-2 senior Teige Zeller. Of the matchup, Lozada-Cabbage said: “I’ve been looking forward to it since last year – I’ve been really wanting to play her. … I haven’t really played anyone bigger than me or as big as me. I don’t know who they’ve played, but I’m sure she hasn’t played anyone as big as me.”
WLV SQUARES OFF AGAINST JUGGERNAUT: Kody Najar, West Las Vegas’ newest addition, isn’t afraid.
Sure, he’s heard the hype surrounding Class 3A’s top-seeded Hope Christian Huskies. He’s just not buying it.
“They’re human like us,” said Najar, a senior who missed 16 games this season due to eligibility issues. “Everyone sees Hope and they think they are ‘the’ team. But we can come in and shake everything up.”
Najar finished with a game-high 26 points in WLV’s 73-57 rout of Ruidoso in Wednesday’s quarterfinal matchup at the Santa Ana Star Center. And with Najar, who is the only player on the Dons’ squad with any state tournament experience, finally in sync with the rest of his teammates, Dons standout freshman D.J. Bustos said WLV now has the ammunition it needs to pull off the upset of the tournament.
“(Najar) helps us a lot,” Bustos said. “… A lot of teams may not think it but Hope is beatable. And I think we’re the team to do it.”
HORSEMEN SURVIVE, ADVANCE: St. Michael’s has proven time and time again that they are never out of any contest – no matter the deficit. Down 10 at halftime, the Horsemen outscored Shiprock 19-6 in the third period, en route to a 57-49 victory and a semifinal matchup against Lovington.
Now with a tourney win under their belts, the Horsemen look to advance to their third title game in three years. But even though the 15-14 Wildcats enter the contest as the underdog, St. Mike’s coach Ron Geyer was impressed after watching them upset No. 3 Silver.
“I was very impressed with Lovington – their big man controlled the game,” Geyer said of 6-8 junior Stephen Lennox, who scored 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting in No. 6 Lovington’s 62-41 upset of the Fighting Colts. “Silver had to put two guys on him, front and back.
“… We have a quality matchup – no question.”