ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With a little more than two minutes of near-perfect basketball, Rodney Coles delivered a blue trophy to the championship-starved, basketball-crazed community of Española Valley.
With a throng of more than 10,000 Sundevils faithful cheering like mad, Coles scored 14 points in the final 2:19 and led Española Valley to a 55-52 win over Goddard in the Class 4A State championship game Saturday at the packed Pit.
The title is the first major sport state championship in school history.
“What a rush, what a rush,” Española Valley head coach Richard Martinez said. “It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as a human being.”
A night after several hundred fans were denied entrance to the Pit for the Gallup-Kirtland Central girls championship game, Española fans suffered the same fate for the 2:30 p.m. game.
According to the NMAA, 500 Española fans were turned away after the Pit filled to capacity.
Boy, did they miss a show.
With the Sundevils trailing 45-41 with 2:34 left in the game, Coles unleashed an air ball on a 3-point attempt. Española Valley looked poised for yet another disappointing end to its season.
But then Coles took over.
As the Rockets inbounded, Coles came up with a steal and hit a driving layup.
After Goddard’s Chase Salazar answered at the other end with a difficult runner to make it 47-43, Coles, who scored a game-high 24 points, was fouled. He missed the front end on a one-and-one and the Rockets tacked on a free throw by Erik Johnson, who led Goddard with 18 points, to take a 48-43 lead with 1:40 to play.
Coles, living up to his nickname of Rocket, then drove the length of the court and hit a layup while being fouled. His free throw made it 48-46. After Goddard turned the ball over on its next possession, Coles again drove the floor and buried a 3-pointer from the corner that gave Española (22-9) the lead for good at 49-48 with 1:21 remaining.
“Every great team has a great stud,” Martinez said. “We basically rode Rocket and rode him hard. He was our lead horse, all we had to do was follow along. What a blessing to have a kid like him.”
Lane Vander Hulst and Johnson each hit a basket to keep the Rockets (21-10) within one possession for the remainder of the game.
But Coles was 6-for-6 on free throws in the final 41 seconds, including a pair of shots with 5.3 seconds left that provided the final margin.
“He just wanted the ball and he took over,” Goddard coach Kevin Jones said of Coles’ late-game heroics. “That’s what leaders do.”
While the last two minutes were pure bliss for Sundevils fans, the first 30 were near agony.
The Rockets and Española traded the lead four times in the first half, and neither team led by more than five points.
The Sundevils looked to put away the Rockets however as Richie Mondragon, who scored 15 points, hit a 3 with 4:43 left in the third quarter. Coles followed by hitting a pair of free throws 13 seconds later to give Española a 37-27 lead.
But Mondragon’s 3 would be the last Española Valley field goal for 9:47 of game time as the Rockets went on an 18-4 run.
After Coles’ final free throws, Johnson missed a 3-point prayer as the buzzer sounded and the Sundevils — along with several disobedient fans who stormed the court — celebrated a championship win for the first time.
“I can’t even explain it, I’m so happy right now,” Coles said. “I’m lost for words right now, it’s too great.”
española valley 55, goddard 52 GODDARD (21-10): Austin Rader 0-1 0-0 0, Brandon Cooper 4-7 0-0 8, Ruben Otero 1-2 2-4 4, Chase Salazar 3-7 1-3 9, Skylar George 0-0 0-0 0, Lane Vander Hulst 4-7 0-0 8, Erik Johnson 7-11 4-6 18, David Sweet 2-6 1-3 5. Totals 21-41 8-16 52. ESPAñOLA VALLEY (28-3): Rodney Coles 6-18 9-10 24, Jozzeb Martinez 0-1 0-0 0, Jeremy Romero 1-8 0-0 2, Mario Salazar 0-0 1-2 1, Zac Trujillo 0-0 2-2 2, Ariel Flores 0-3 1-2 1, Richie Mondragon 6-12 0-0 15, Fabian Valdez 3-5 4-6 10. Totals 16-47 17-22 55. Goddard 14 11 8 19 — 52 Española Valley 16 13 9 17 — 55 3-point goals: G 2-4 (Cooper 0-1, Salazar 2-3); EV 6-19 (Coles 3-11, Romero 0-3, Flores 0-1, Mondragon 3-4). Total fouls: G 19; EV 18. Rebounds: G 36 (Johnson 10); EV 28 (Mondragon 6, Valdez 6). Assists: G 15 (Cooper 5, Salazar 5); EV 8 (Romero 3). Turnovers: G 13; EV 10. Field-goal percentages: EV 52 first half, 50 second half, 51 game; EV 42 first half, 24 second half, 34 game.
Photo Credit – GREG SORBER/JOURNAL
Cutline – Española Valley’s Rodney Coles was a one-man gang for the Sundevils in their comeback win against Goddard on Saturday.