Third-seeded Belen staged an incredible rally from 16 points down to stun No. 2 Los Lunas 50-41 in the boys Class 5A state semifinals at Dreamstyle Arena on Thursday afternoon.
Belen advances to Saturday’s 2 p.m. final at the Pit against Española Valley.
No. 3 BELEN 50, No. 2 LOS LUNAS 41: Senior Garrett Gallegos scored 23 points for the Eagles (25-7), who rallied from a 31-15 deficit in the third quarter.
“Me and my guys at halfcourt just talked that we need to keep attacking,” Gallegos said. “I just got it and kept attacking. … We just got it done.”
The Tigers (24-6) were coasting, up 31-15, until Gallegos was fouled on a 3-point attempt. He made all three free throws and then hit a 3 to ignite a 14-0 run that carried over into the fourth quarter.
“We were struggling to score and they’re such a good defensive unit, it does seem like a mountain (to climb),” said first-year Eagles coach Andrew Dunnell. “At this point, I have a lot of seniors, I have to keep believing. Because if I show that doubt, they’re for sure going to start doubting.
“I just amped up the pressure. We pressed a lot early on, (then) we kind of got away from it. They came through and just fought.”
Junior Zanen Zeller, who led Los Lunas with 18 points, made a layup to give the Tigers a 33-29 lead. It would be their last high point of the game.
“It definitely felt like the momentum shifted at the end of the third,” Los Lunas coach Travis Julian said. “I thought that we could push our way through it. We let them get too many buckets in the third quarter and never got the momentum back.”
Gallegos made a layup and Alexis Aguilar nailed a 3-pointer to give Belen a 34-33 lead. The Eagles never trailed again, largely thanks to their prowess at the free-throw line, where they were 12-for-14 in the fourth quarter.
“We’ve been struggling all year from the free-throw line for some reason,” Gallegos said. “I think we came in here and coach talked about just do everything with confidence. Miss with confidence, play D, make a mistake. We just stepped up and we just put them in.”
After Zeller made one of two free throws to briefly tie the game at 34-34, Belen went on a 7-0 run to seal the victory.
BELEN (25-7) Omar Rojo 1, Justin Evans 9, Garrett Gallegos 23, Uriah Zengerly 0, Gabe Hessinger 0, Matthew Padilla 4, Ryan Garcia 7, Alexis Aguilar 6. Totals 13-FG 19-22-FT 50.
LOS LUNAS (24-6) Jacob Sanchez 0, Joshua Ortiz 0, Nicholas Gaerlan 10, AJ Garcia 2, Joe Dominguez 5, Darius Haywood 6, Zanen Zeller 18, Sebastian LaLonde 0. Totals 16-FG 4-10-FT 41.
Belen 7 7 12 24—50
Los Lunas 12 8 11 10—41
3-Point FG: B 5 (Gallegos 3, Aguilar, Evans); LL 5 (Gaerlan 2, Haywood 2, Zeller). Rebounds: B 28 (Garcia 10); LL 26 (Haywood 5). Assists: B 10 (Evans 4); LL 7 (Zeller 5). Team Fouls: B 17, LL 14. Fouled Out: LL, Garcia.
No. 1 ESPANOLA VALLEY 63, No. 5 ARTESIA 59 (OT): It took an extra four minutes for the Sundevils (28-1) to sew up a hard-fought spot in Saturday‘s championship game.
Isaiah Vigil scored 15 points and JP Sena added 13 points and 11 rebounds to help Española Valley (28-1) escape from a rough, physical Artesia (21-8) team.
“It was different playing a team kind of playing physical like that, not scared of us at all,” Vigil said. “We’ve played teams we walked by them where we could just tell, oh these guys are not ready for this. These guys, they came ready to play.”
Tyler Greenwood made two free throws with 1:42 left in regulation to tie the game at 53-53. Neither team was able to break the deadlock, necessitating overtime.
Christian Fernandez stole the ball and scored the first basket of the extra period to put the Sundevils up 55-53.
Joe Willingham, who had a game-high 23 points and 13 rebounds, put back a missed shot to tie the game again. Willingham was also a force on defense with six blocks.
“I got some pretty good blocks, yeah, but it was really (my teammates) helping me,” he said. “It was about letting me get back into position to play really good defense.”
Española Valley got a short jumper from Sena, only to see Artesia knot it up once more on a pair of free throws by Cody Smith.
Sena drew a foul with 1:29 left and sank both of the ensuing free throws. The Sundevils’ midcourt trap worked to perfection, forcing back-to-back turnovers that led to one basket by Sena and, more importantly, killed the clock.
“We’re an experienced team. We were ready for the blows that they were giving us,” Sena said.
Willingham made two free throws with 28.2 seconds remaining to pull the Bulldogs within 61-59, only to see Azaziah Salazar draw a foul and calmly make his two free throws with 14.3 seconds left to seal the game.
“Credit the guys. They never gave up, they hung tough,” Sundevils coach James Branch said. “Despite the physicality, the physicality, that’s a football team. Quote that, I’m serious. The guys need to be commended, because dang, that’s basketball, it ain’t football.”
ARTESIA (21-8) Cody Smith 15, Kale Mauritsen 2, Luke Nelson 0, Chaney Hardt 11, Tyler Greenwood 2, Anthony Armendariz 3, Taylor Null 3, Joe Willingham 23. Totals 20-FG 17-28-FT 59.
ESPANOLA VALLEY (28-1) Ryan Trujillo 4, Christian Fernandez 9, Isaiah Vigil 15, JP Sena 13, Martin Gracia 9, Zach Mascarenas 4, Brian Martinez 2, Azaziah Salazar 7. Totals 20-FG 17-26-FT 63.
Artesia 12 14 17 10 6—59
Espanola 18 12 13 10 10—63
3-Point FG: A 2 (Hardt 2); EV 6 (Vigi 3, Gracia 2, Mascarenas). Rebounds: A 49 (Willingham 13); EV 37 (Sena 11). Assists: A 13 (Mauritsen 6); EV 14 (Trujillo 6). Team Fouls: A 22, EV 23. Fouled Out: A, Mauritsen; EV, Mascarenas.