RIO RANCHO — For most of Wednesday afternoon, Jordy Moreno wasn’t the first, or even the second option, for Oñate.
But with the game on the line, he was the right man for the job. With 11.2 seconds remaining and the score tied at 64, Moreno took the inbounds pass and went the length of the court — spinning past a pair of Valley defenders — for a game-winning layup in the first round of the Jalene Berger Allstate Holiday Hoops Classic at Rio Rancho High School. Oñate intercepted the ensuing Viking inbound pass as time expired.
“The coaches said if I get it, ‘Just go.’ That’s what I did,” said 6-foot-5 sophomore post, who finished with eight points.
“I was confident. I practice a lot on my dribbling. It pays off. I just tried my best to balance and go strong with my left foot and hopefully it went in.”
The 10-2 Knights advance to today’s semifinals. Valley (3-4), meanwhile, is 1-3 in its last four outings, all of which have been decided by three points or fewer.
Heading into the final sequence, Moreno might not have been the obvious choice to get the ball. However, Oñate sophomore Ricky Lujan, who finished with a team-high 24 points, was on the bench in warmups after fouling out with 3:30 to play. Senior Tony Avalos, who added 16, was attracting plenty of attention from Viking defenders on the inbounds pass. That gave Moreno plenty of room with which to work.
“The kid that pulled the last play, that’s the type of guy he is,” Oñate coach Michael Nanez said. “He’s not well known, but I’m gonna say you better watch out for this kid because he’s something special.”
The same could be said for Oñate. The Knights might look like a surprise contender among Class 6A boys on the surface, but there is plenty of confidence within the program. Nanez expected continuity after taking over for Saul Perez, who guided Oñate a 23-6 mark and a No. 1 seed in the state tournament last season.
“I guess we are (a surprise), so I’m just kind of riding with it. I don’t feel like we are,” Nanez said. “I see how you could say that losing a good group of guys from last year … I knew what we had being on the staff for so long.”
Valley pulled ahead by 10 midway through the second quarter, but that would be the game’s only double-digit margin. Oñate tightened its defense on Vikings all-state performer Anthony Chavez and cut the lead to five at halftime, then took a four-point advantage into the fourth quarter. The Knights led much of the final period, but Chavez, who scored 20 of his game-high 29 in the first half, hit a pair of free throws to tie the game. That set the stage for Moreno’s heroics.
“These games are good, man. We might look like we’re nervous, but inside we’re kind of smiling, laughing and having a good time,” Nanez said. “These are tough. This is what helps you in March. This is a good game for us, a good win for us.”
OÑATE 66, VALLEY 64
OñATE(10-2): Tony Avalos 16, Ricky Lujan 24, Derek Silva 1, Jordy Moreno 8, Isaiah Varela 8, Erick Ortega 9. 24-FG 13-15-FT 66.
VALLEY (3-4): Zeke Roybal 4, Anthony Chavez 29, Jove Messenger 3, Derick Chavez 3, Seyi Oyeku 2, Segun Oyeku 13, Isaiah Torres 10. 18-FG 23-27-FT 64.
Oñate 11 16 20 19—66
Valley 14 18 11 21—64
3-Point FG: O 5 (Lujan 3, Varela 2); V 5 (A. Chavez 3, Messenger, D. Chavez). Team Fouls: O 24, V 18. Fouled Out: O, Lujan, Monroe Young.