The number of the day for the top-ranked boys basketball team in Class 5A was this:
Five, as in the number of turnovers No. 1 Volcano Vista committed Friday afternoon in their matchup with No. 2 Las Cruces. The Hawks protected the ball, got terrific value out of their possessions, especially in the second half, and Volcano Vista – which also made all but one of its 20 free throws – was clinical as it beat Las Cruces 56-49 in the semifinals of the Joe Armijo Classic at Albuquerque Academy.
“We do a good job of taking care of the ball, and we do a good job of protecting a lead down the stretch,” Hawks coach Greg Brown said. “Our defense is still a work in progress, so we need our offense to help our defense in the fourth quarter. And we did.”
Senior guard Dion Battle scored 22 points to lead Volcano Vista (5-0). That included 8-of-8 from the free-throw line, including all four of his tries in the fourth quarter.
“We’re a very (solid) team,” Battle said. “We’re not the most athletic, or the tallest, so we have to win in different types of ways.”
All of the Hawks’ five wins have been of a very high quality, with other victories against Clovis, Valley, Hope Christian and La Cueva. At 8:15 Saturday night in the Armijo final comes another: a matchup with District 1-5A rival, and defending state champion, Atrisco Heritage.
The Hawks on Friday scored the game’s first six points, and led the Bulldawgs (5-1) almost the entire way, although the game was close throughout.
Las Cruces, in fact, was right on the Hawks’ heels for nearly every one of the 32 minutes, but Volcano Vista just about always managed to keep the ‘Dawgs at arm’s length.
Late in the first half, for example, Gonzalo Corbalan for Las Cruces scored from close range to get the Bulldawgs to 20-19. But in the next two minutes, Ian Chavez of Volcano Vista buried his only two 3-pointers of the game, and the Hawks carried a 26-23 lead into halftime.
Las Cruces led the game for a total of 16 seconds. After a midrange jumper by William Benjamin and a three-point play from Ray Brown with 3:03 left in the third quarter, the Bulldawgs led 34-33. That was one of only two times in the game that Las Cruces scored consecutive field goals without an answer from Volcano Vista.
Battle’s short shot off the glass moments later put the Hawks back in front, where they remained. Twice in the second half, Volcano Vista turned lengthy offensive possessions into points, shortening the game and helping to keep the Bulldawgs from overtaking them again.
“We missed way too many layups. Period,” said Bulldawgs coach William Benjamin. “You can’t beat a team like Volcano missing five layups in the first quarter.”
Sal Nevarez led the Bulldawgs with 12 points. They face Albuquerque Academy in the third-place game at 4:45 p.m. Saturday.