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Class 5A boys: Top-seeded Las Cruces batters Capital

Capital’s Angel Parra is closely guarded by Las Cruces High’s William Benjamin during the Class 5A state title game in Albuquerque Saturday night. (NMAA photo)

An empty building? No matter. It proved to be true Southern comfort for the Las Cruces Bulldawgs.

The last game of the 2020 New Mexico state high school basketball tournament – and possibly the final prep game of any kind until August – was won by No. 1 seed Las Cruces, which seized control in the second quarter and went on to a 65-53 victory over No. 2 Capital on Saturday night in the Class 5A final at Dreamstyle Arena – the Pit.

It is the school’s first boys’ basketball title since 2013.

“It’s just special,” head coach William Benjamin said in a postgame interview on the NFHS Network. “You go through this thing, you get one, people doubt if you can get another, but you work hard and you stay the course.”

A year ago, Las Cruces shockingly was ousted from the tournament in the first round as the 2 seed.

“To bounce back the following year, on a special day for me personally?” Benjamin said, adding that Saturday was both his daughter’s and mother’s birthday. “It’s just real special.”

It was a 12-0 first-half run that put the Bulldawgs (29-3) in front 18-11, and there Las Cruces remained, mostly with a nice cushion, for almost all of the final three quarters.

During that run, the Bulldawgs turned Capital over four times within two minutes and converted three of those turnovers directly into baskets.

Gonzalo Corbalan had the first two buckets, Sal Nevarez the third.

“You have options defensively of what you want to do when have a lead like that, and we were able to switch up our zone a little bit,” Benjamin said.

And although Dominic Luna of Capital made a 3-pointer moments later, Las Cruces scored the next seven for a 25-14 edge. The lead was 30-21 at halftime, and the advantage hovered between six and 17 points in the second half.

When the Jaguars inched close, as with T.J. Sanchez’s three-point play that had the Jaguars down just 38-32 mid- third quarter, Las Cruces had Corbalan to answer at the other end.

He scored eight straight for the Bulldawgs as they extended back to a 12-point lead at 46-34 late in the third quarter.

The lead was double digits throughout the final eight minutes. The 17-point lead, 62-45, came on a Corbalan dunk.

Corbalan was 6-of-9 from the floor and scored 17 points. Las Cruces was efficient on offense, shooting 57.8 percent (26 of 45), and that included a handful of dunks – four from 6-foot-9 post Isaiah Carr and a couple of others from Corbalan, who arrived in Las Cruces from Argentina.

The numerous close looks explained why Las Cruces was 12-of-18 from the field in the second half.

Looking back on an extraordinary week, the Bulldawgs’ biggest threat in the final three rounds turned out to be Clovis, in Wednesday’s quarterfinals. Down five in the fourth quarter, Las Cruces eventually took a one-point lead in the final minutes and then benefited from a couple of late misses by the Wildcats in a 51-46 quarterfinal victory.

In the final two rounds, Las Cruces’ length and defense first stymied Volcano Vista in Thursday’s semifinals, and then the Jaguars on Saturday night.

Las Cruces is the first No. 1 seed to capture the big-school boys division since Hobbs in 2015.

Carr finished with 14 points and was 6-of-8 from the floor. William Benjamin, the son of the head coach, scored nine points.

“You don’t know when you’re gonna get back here,” coach Benjamin said. “You better soak it in.”

Capital was attempting to win its first basketball title since 2004. Sanchez scored 15 points, Luna 13 for the Jaguars.

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