ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Nearly 600 miles away at Pit West, they celebrated.
Back here at the original Pit, they partied for another reason.
No. 1 Valley — clearly the best team throughout the 2013-14 season — capped a brilliant 3½ months, beating district rival Atrisco Heritage 56-42 Saturday night to capture the boys Class 5A state basketball championship.
A raucous crowd estimated at 12,000 converged at the Pit for this much-anticipated season finale, which resulted in the Vikings (27-2) earning their first blue trophy 1996 — but this one was especially gratifying since it occurred on Albuquerque soil. The ’96 tournament was played in Las Cruces.
“We just want to go back to the North Valley and see what’s going on,” Valley coach Joe Coleman said with a smile.
“It was nice to be able to do it here, with these people who are so supportive,” Coleman said.
The Vikings have been as snakebitten as any 5A program over the past decade and a half, but this group, with 10 seniors, had a steady, assured hand throughout the season. They rarely faltered and were impossible to fluster.
“I don’t want to take this uniform off,” said point guard Rob Armijo. “I don’t want to leave those guys in the locker room. But it’s the best way to end it.”
Valley beat Atrisco Heritage for the third time in four meetings this season, and the Vikings did it in their trademark fashion: smothering defense and superb guard play.
The Atrisco guard tandem of Corbin Waquie and Joe Brooks went a combined 9-of-30 from the floor and neither was allowed by Valley to influence the final score. Atrisco was just 5-for-24 from beyond the arc.
“They maybe didn’t shoot it as well as they have, but I don’t want to take anything away from our defense. Best defense in the state,” Coleman said. “And we tried to make a statement tonight with that.”
Atrisco Heritage (24-6) did play a strong opening eight minutes, leading 14-7 on the strength of 55 percent shooting.
Valley put together a 9-0 run in the second quarter to lead 20-17, which included a 3-pointer from Bo Coleman. The Vikings led 25-23 at halftime.
When Valley slowly stretched that lead to 35-27 with 2:16 left in the third quarter on Joe Anaya’s 3-pointer, Atrisco Heritage’s situation was downgraded from tentative to dire.
The Vikings and their plethora of senior guards protected leads this season better than anyone in the 5A ranks.
“Once they get a lead on you,” Jaguars coach Adrian Ortega said, “they’re not gonna make mistakes.”
And, right on cue, Valley fashioned some terrific basketball over the final 10 minutes, not letting Atrisco Heritage up for air.
Senior guard Adonis Saltes, who struggled a bit in Thursday’s semifinal win over Hobbs, was outstanding in the fourth quarter Saturday night. He scored 16 of his game-high 26 points in the final eight minutes.
“I don’t play for stats,” Saltes said. “If it comes, it comes. That’s the one thing I love about this team.”
Saltes buried a 3-pointer with 5:19 to go to make it 43-35, and added a three-point play at the 4:18 mark for a commanding 46-35 edge.
“He was due for a big game tonight,” said Valley senior guard Joe Anaya, who had 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists. “Thank God it was tonight. He played amazing.”
Atrisco Heritage has only been playing varsity basketball for four seasons, and already the Jags have advanced to at least the semifinals two times. But Valley was a difficult matchup for the Jags, and the Vikings were perhaps the only team that could keep Atrisco’s speed under wraps.
Waquie led the Jaguars with 19 points and six rebounds.
“We just got outplayed tonight,” he said.
NO. 1 VALLEY 56, NO. 3 ATRISCO HERITAGE 42
ATRISCO HERITAGE (24-6) Zeke Ketasigwa 0-0 0-0 0, Corbin Waquie 6-19, 4-7 19, Deshawn Lucero 1-4 0-0 2, Joe Brooks 3-11 2-4 9, Chris Trujillo 0-1 0-0 0, Adrian Ortega 1-3 0-0 3, Jeremy Torres 0-1 0-0 0, Johnny Rodriguez 0-1 0-0 0, Patrick Roark 1-4 2-2 4, Deven Peace 2-3 1-2 5. Totals 14-47 9-15 42.
VALLEY (27-2) Joseph Anaya 4-7 6-8 15, Aaron Molina 1-3 0-0 2, Robert Armijo 1-4 2-4 4, Bo Coleman 3-6 0-0 7, Jahlil Ford 0-2 1-2 1, Troy Giddings 0-1 1-2 1, Adonis Saltes 7-11 10-11 26. Totals 16-34 20-27 56.
Atrisco Heritage 14 9 8 11—42
Valley 7 18 11 20—56
3-point goals: A 5-24 (Qaquie 3-12, Lucero 0-1, Brooks 1-6, Trujillo 0-1, Ortega 1-2, Torres 0-1, Rodriguez 0-1); V 4-11 (Anaya 1-2, Armijo 0-1, Coleman 1-2, Ford 0-1, Saltes 2-5); Rebounds: A 29 (Waquie 6); V 35 (Giddings 8). Assists: A 4 (Waquie 2); V 11 (Armijo 5). Totals Fouls: A 18; V 14. Fouled out: none. Technicals: none. Turnovers: A 11, V 11.