Del Norte’s surging program reached the top of the mountain Saturday afternoon.
Blazing through a regular season schedule in just 27 days, the top-seeded Knights captured the program’s first-ever boys basketball state championship, beating Artesia 52-41 in the 4A title game at the Pit.
“It’s just a relief, and there’s been so much buildup trying to get to this point,” said Del Norte head coach Jeron McIntosh. “Year after year, we’ve gotten close, and (this year), the kids could feel it, too. They could tell it was our year from the beginning.”
Sophomore guard Shane Douma-Sanchez scored a game-high 23 points to go with four assists to top Del Norte (12-1).
Douma-Sanchez said he grew up around the game with his dad a varsity coach. He experienced the state championship tournament as an onlooker and made the most of his opportunity as a participant.
“This is a dream come true for me,” Douma-Sanchez said. “I’ve been here since I was little, and I’ve been in the locker room doing everything. To finally win one with my dad here, and my friends, it feels awesome.”
Artesia (11-4) had already built on last year’s state quarterfinals appearance, reaching its first boys basketball final since 2009.
Two early buckets by Johntae Rodriguez in the game’s opening 90 seconds did not portend what was to come. The Bulldogs made just one more field goal the rest of the half, and went 11 minutes and 31 seconds without a basket.
Nick Sanchez ended the long field goal drought, hitting a 3 with three minutes left in the half. If not for 12-for-15 first-half foul shooting, the Bulldogs’ 25-19 halftime deficit would’ve likely been much larger.
“I think (the bad shooting) was a combination of a bunch of different things,” said Artesia head coach Michael Mondragon, whose club shot 21 percent for the game. “A couple shots were in and out or all the way down and out. We got good looks and got what we wanted. We just missed shots. It’s the game of basketball, and it’s a make or miss sport.”
Del Norte started to pull away midway through the third quarter.
Senior Feathers Valencia hit a 2 from the wing off a Judah Casaus feed, and Valencia followed up on the next possession nailing a jumper from the foul line.
Sophomore Roman Hileman tacked on a free throw with 3:05 left in the quarter, giving Del Norte a 34-23 lead.
Artesia responded to its first double-digit deficit with its best sequence of basketball in the game.
Rodriguez pulled up and nailed a 3 from the top of the key, which kicked off a 7-0 run for the Bulldogs.
Darius Bishop and Trenton Lee followed with layups, the latter closing the deficit to 34-30 with 35 ticks left in the quarter.
Del Norte held the ball for the final shot of the quarter, and Casaus’ hit was likely his biggest shot of the season. From the left wing, he nailed his only 3 of the game just before the third-quarter horn, pushing the Del Norte lead back to seven.
Casaus added 15 points and five steals, and at the most critical juncture of the game, four of the five players on the court were underclassmen.
“We have a lot of sophomores, and (the underclassmen) all stepped up big,” Douma-Sanchez said. “We’re going to be around for a while.”
Sanchez scored a team-high 21 points, which included a perfect 14-for-14 from the foul line.
NO. 1 DEL NORTE 52, NO. 2 ARTESIA 41
Artesia (11-4): Johntae Rodriguez 3-11 7-8 14, Cord Cox 0-5 0-2-0, Bjorn Mauritsen 0-0 0-0-0 , Nick Sanchez 3-8 14-14-21, Jacob Barrera 0-0 0-0-0, Trenton Lee 1-3 0-0-2 , Jacob Creighton 0-9 1-2-1, D’andre Calvillo 0-0 0-0-0, Marcos Tavera 0-0 0-0-0, Darius Bishop 1-3 0-0-2, Joe Palma 0-0 0-0-0, Nemica Hernandez 0-0 0-1-0, Cameron Thorpe 0-0 0-0-0 , Payton Deans 0-0 1-2-1. Totals: 8-39 23-29-41
Del Norte (12-1): Estevan DeVargas 0-2 0-0-0, Judah Casaus 7-14 0-0-15, Josh Tellez 1-3 0-0-2 , Noah Garcia 1-1 0-0-2, Elijah Terrin 0-0 0-0-0, Jude Tapia 0-0 0-0-0, Sal Terrazas 0-0 0-0-0, Feathers Valencia 2-6 0-0-5 , Dakota Melk 0-0 0-0-0, Roman Hileman 1-2 2-3-4, Xavier Evans 0-0 0-0-0, Aiden Hileman 0-0 0-0-0, Deion Jim 0-0 0-0-0, Shane Douma-Sanchez 6-16 8-10-23. Totals: 18-44 10-16-52.
Artesia 6 13 11 11–41
Del Norte 11 14 12 15–52
3-point goals: A 2-9 (Rodriguez 1-2, Sanchez 1-3, Cox 0-1, Creighton 0-2, Bishop 0-1). DN 6-19 ( Douma-Sanchez 3-6, Tellez 1-2, Casaus 1-4, Valencia 1-5, De Vargas 0-2). Rebounds: A 35 (Cox 9); DN 30 (Evans 8). Assists: A 2 (Lee, Sanchez -1); DN 9 (Douma-Sanchez 4). Steals: A 11 (Rodriguez 4); DN 11 (Casaus 5). Turnovers: A 21; DN 18. Team fouls: A 24; DN 24. Fouled out: A Cox, DN Tellez.