The Volcano Vista High School boys basketball team knows how to do that game-winning, buzzer-beating thing, too.
And like the girls program, it also has quite a flair for the dramatic.
Senior guard Ja’Kwon Hill hit the shot of his outstanding four-year career, burying a 3-pointer as time expired Tuesday night, leading the Hawks — who trailed by 11 points early in the fourth quarter — to an electrifying 60-59 comeback victory at La Cueva in a matchup of two of Class 5A’s top teams.
“You know, I work on that one-dribble, pull-up 3 every day,” Hill said.
Exodus Ayers of La Cueva hit one out of two free throws with 1.6 seconds to go for a 59-57 lead.
Jaden Malone inbounded under the baseline for the Hawks (4-0), throwing a left-handed baseball pass to Hill in front of Volcano Vista’s bench.
“Great pass by Jaden,” Hill said.
Hill dribbled once, then the southpaw let it fly. The ball circled the rim for the briefest of moments before falling through, setting off a wild celebration as players and students swarmed Hill on the court.
“It feels good to have everyone running at you, celebrating,” Hill said. “Just a happy feeling.”
Hill has been an impact player at Volcano Vista since he was a ninth grader, but this moment certainly stands out as his crowning moment. So far, anyway.
“As a freshman, he had that same shot against Cleveland, a very similar look and he front-rimmed it,” Hawks coach Greg Brown said. “Here he is four years later and hits a big one.”
La Cueva led 44-33 after a three-point play by Ayers in the opening seconds of the quarter.
The Bears led for the majority of the game, and for all but 80 seconds of the second half. Volcano Vista had a 30-29 lead midway through the third quarter, but La Cueva answered with a 12-0 run and a 41-30 advantage. Ayers had nine of the 11 points in that run, including a 3-pointer.
Down 44-33, Volcano Vista authored a 10-0 run in less than two minutes, cutting the deficit to 44-43 with 5:32 remaining and setting the stage for a memorable finish.
The Bears (3-1) were ultimately undone not just by Hill’s amazing shot, but by dismal free-throw shooting in the clutch.
La Cueva made just eight out of 17 tries from the stripe in the final eight minutes, and finished 14 of 25 for the game.
“Probably had a little bit of help,” Brown said. “But it was fun.”
Kaden Valdez led the Hawks with 21 points. Hill finished with 20 as only five Volcano Vista players scored.
Ayers had 19 to lead La Cueva, with Gabe Trujillo chipping in with 14 points.
“La Cueva is really good, probably even better than we thought they were gonna be,” Brown said. “I thought they outplayed us in a lot of areas tonight.”
VOLCANO VISTA 60, LA CUEVA 59
VOLCANO VISTA (4-0): Kaden Valdez 21, Ja’Kwon Hill 20, Jaden Malone 8, Oscar McCoy 5, Sean Alter 6. Totals 23 8-13 60.
LA CUEVA (3-1): Exodus Ayers 19, Ced Yates 9, Josiah Guliford 7, Gabe Trujillo 14, Daniel Jacobsen 2, Deven Dyer 2, Isaiah Denetclaw 6. Totals 20 14-25 59.
Volcano Vista 12 10 11 27 — 60
La Cueva 16 11 14 18 — 59
3-point goals: VV 6 (Hill 2, Malone 2, Valdez, McCoy); LC 5 (Guliford 2, Denetclaw 2, Ayers). Total fouls: VV 24; VV 16. Fouled out: VV, McCoy.
Cleveland, Rio Rancho and Albuquerque Academy are hosting tournaments starting Thursday.
The annual Joe Armijo Classic at Academy is notable for the presence of the Las Cruces High boys, whom many consider to be Class 5A’s best team. The Bulldawgs open at 4:45 p.m. Thursday against West Mesa.
Other first-round matchups are Hope Christian-Goddard at 6:30 p.m., Academy versus Rio Grande at 8 a.m., and Clovis-Organ Mountain at 8:15 p.m.
The final is 8:15 p.m. Saturday.
Rio Rancho’s girls basketball invitational tournament also runs Thursday through Saturday.
In the first round Thursday, Santa Fe plays Clovis at 1 p.m., Centennial meets St. Pius at 3 p.m., La Cueva takes on Mayfield at 5 p.m., and the host Rams face Grants at 7 p.m.
The championship game is 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Phil Griego Invitational at Cleveland — renamed for the man who was serving as a Storm boys assistant coach, and who was a longtime head girls coach at St. Pius — features the host team and Volcano Vista. The popular Griego died earlier this year.
Cleveland plays St. Michael’s in the final game Thursday, at 7:15 p.m. Volcano Vista drew Menaul in the opener, at 2:15 p.m. That is followed by Eldorado and Roswell at 4 p.m., and Piedra Vista against the Volcano Vista JV at 5:45 p.m.
The title game is 2:45 p.m. Saturday.