The Eagles will advance to play at top-seeded Manzano tonight at 7 in the district championship. The Monarchs won both regular-season games, building big early leads and holding off Eldorado rallies.
“I’m expecting a close game, extremely hard-fought,” said Eldorado’s Cullen Neal, who scored a game high 23 points in the win over Sandia. “We’ve got to come out stronger than we usually do.”
The second-seeded Eagles (19-6) had swept both regular-season games from the fourth-seeded Matadors (13-13) but only by 16 points total. This time around, Eldorado took command early and never let up.
“We did a good job, hit a lot of shots, hit a lot of second shots,” Eldorado coach Roy Sanchez said.
The game was tied at 9 midway through the first quarter when Eldorado rolled off eight unanswered points on Cameron Glasrud’s 3-pointer, Matt Crockett’s putback and a three-point play by Neal.
Sandia cut the lead to 17-12 on Matt Garcia’s 3-pointer at the outset of the second quarter, but the Matadors would get no closer.
The Eagles dominated inside behind the trio of 6-foot-7 Chris Strong, Crockett and Eric Barthel.
Strong had six points and a game-high 10 rebounds; Crockett added six points, and Barthel scored all eight of his points after collecting offensive rebounds.
“He’s been our rock,” Sanchez said of Strong.
“Rebounds are huge. If they get no second shots, that’s huge, and he does a good job of that.”
Neal provided the outside scoring, but he also felt it was the work inside that made the biggest difference for the Eagles.
“The last two games they killed us on the boards, and that’s what kept them close,” Neal said.
Isaiah Rogers scored 15 points for Sandia, but the Matadors were left flustered by Eldorado’s zone defense for the entire contest.
“They frustrated us a little bit,” Sandia coach Alvin Broussard said. “They got some easy buckets, too many rebounds and it hurt us.”