It’s all about the view, Justin Woody said.
At halftime Friday night, the view from inside Highland High School’s locker room was discouraging.
Visiting Belen strung together a terrific shooting first half, and led the second-ranked Hornets by a dozen points at the half. And thus it was already clear, even in this, Highland’s District 5-4A opener, that the final month of the regular season would be fraught with challenges for this league’s preseason favorite.
“I told the guys, we’re not used to having a bullseye on our backs,” said Woody, Highland’s head boys basketball coach. “And that we’re gonna get everybody’s best shot.”
Seventh-ranked Belen (12-6, 1-1) was not able to preserve that 12-point lead in the second half, however, and Highland (11-3, 1-0) — sparked by sophomore guard Raul Stanford’s early 3-pointer in the extra session for a four-point lead — eventually held off the Eagles with a 48-47 overtime victory at fan-less Highland.
“We have three teams (including St. Pius) in our district ranked in the top seven (by MaxPreps.com), and it’s fun,” said Woody. “That’s what prepares us for our district and the state tournament. You want to play teams that give you challenges every night.”
Belen, minus guard Jose Luis Garcia, overcame an early deficit with a keen shooting eye and some productive work inside, both elements equally effective in fueling a 17-0 run.
6-foot-5 Dalton Bland and 6-6 Daniel Corrales gave the Eagles some offense inside as Belen scored the final 11 of the first quarter for a 15-8 lead.
Freshman Damian Avila and sophomore Jordi Rojo buried consecutive 3s early in the second quarter as the Hornets were staring at an unexpected 21-8 deficit.
Rojo added two more 3s before halftime, which had Belen in front 29-17.
“We just got together and talked about our defense and figure how to defend their shooters and their post guys,” said HIghland 6-9 senior post Jose Murillo.
Said Woody, “They played harder than us the second quarter and the second half of the first quarter. And then we came out and matched their intensity in the second half.”
Murillo scored 14 of his team-best 20 points in the second half comeback, including a couple of rim-ratting, two-handed alley-oop dunks.
Brandon Medina, a 6-4 junior making his first start of the season to help offset some of Belen’s bulk on the front line, hit two clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter for Highland, the first offensive noise he made since scoring the Hornets’ first eight points of the game.
“I have the confidence to shoot it, so coach told me to shoot it,” Medina said. He finished with 14 points.
Neither team scored in the final 92 seconds of regulation. Murillo scored from close for a 43-41 to start the OT. After a Belen free throw, Stanford nailed a 3 from the top of the key for a 46-42 lead. The final margin was the result of a last-second Belen field goal.
HIGHLAND 48, BELEN 47 (OT)
BELEN (12-6, 1-1 in 5-4A): Jordi Rojo 11, Elijah Romero 7, Damian Avila 3, Dalton Bland 10, Brody Jacquez 5, Daniel Corrales 11. Totals 17 8-12 47.
HIGHLAND (11-3, 1-0): JoJo Woody 4, Alexis Dominguez 2, Gustavo Ayala 2, Brandon Medina 14, Raul Stanford 3, Fernando Hernandez 3, Jose Murillo 20. Totals 20 2-2 48.
Belen 15 14 5 7 6 — 47
Highland 8 9 10 14 7 — 48
3-point goals: B 5 (Rojo 3, Romero, Avila); H 6 (Medina 4, Stanford, Hernandez). Total fouls: B 11; H 16.