The last of Elijah Brody’s 23 points proved to be the most important to the West Mesa Mustangs on Wednesday night.
The junior guard scored on a tough, short bank shot to tie a District 2-5A opener against visiting La Cueva with 61 seconds to go. He was fouled on the play, and his subsequent free throw, which completed a three-point play, was the difference as the Mustangs, ranked No. 6 in Class 5A, edged the eighth-ranked Bears in an exciting 67-66 victory.
For as many thrills as Brody provided football fans for the Mustangs in the fall, he is clearly a premium asset for West Mesa (13-4) on the floor. Evidence his difficult make with 1:01 remaining.
“That’s why I like to say I’m a football player when it comes to stuff like that in the paint,” the 6-foot-3 Brody said with a smile.
Brody’s play capped an extremely tight fourth quarter — and a close, back-and-forth game, for that matter.
There were five lead changes and four ties in the final eight minutes alone.
La Cueva post Daniel Lovato put the Bears in front 66-64 with 1:21 to go, as he drove the baseline, and then ducked under on the far side to lay it in.
At the other end, Brody got some penetration, and managed to bury a short jumper off the glass even as he was being bodied by the Bears’ Isaiah Denetclaw.
“The thing is, he can play any position,” West Mesa coach Shonn Schroer said of Brody, who was one of the state’s top Class 6A quarterbacks. “Tonight, he played the post to start the game. He can guard a post, he can guard a point guard. He’s got good feet, he’s strong, he’s athletic, he runs, he rebounds. There’s not a lot he can’t do.”
La Cueva had two chances to tie or perhaps go ahead in the final few seconds.
Cam Dyer missed the front end of a one-and-one with 12.4 seconds left for the Bears (10-7).
La Cueva got the rebound; JoJo Guliford’s 3-point try with about 7 seconds was off the mark, and the Bears never got another shot attempt.
Schroer figures we’ll have a steady dose of this over the next few weeks in 2-5A, including Sandia, Eldorado and Farmington.
The Eagles, who hammered Piedra Vista, and the Matadors, who defeated Farmington, won 2-5A openers on Tuesday.
“I think a lot of people talk about (1-5A, with Cleveland and Volcano and Atrisco Heritage), but we have four or five really good teams in this district,” Schroer said.
Lovato had 20 points for the Bears, who had a 52-44 lead in the third quarter following a 12-0 run before West Mesa scored nine of the last 11 points of the quarter to trail 54-53 entering the fourth quarter.
“We knew we just had to keep pushing and we were going to get there,” Brody said.
WEST MESA 67, LA CUEVA 66
LA CUEVA (10-7, 0-1 2-5A): Cam Dyer 15, Ced Yates 6, JoJo Guliford 9, Daniel Lovato 20, Brandon Barlett 2, Isaiah Denetclaw 14. Totals 26 FG 9-11 FT 66.
WEST MESA (13-4, 1-0): Elijah Brody 23, Brandon Lagunas 2, Elijah Espinoza 4, Jeremiah Holtz 5, Sonny Ortiz 17, Darian Lucero 8, Marcus Sharp 8. Totals 27 FG 6-7 FT 67.
La Cueva 21 17 16 12 — 66
West Mesa 14 24 15 14 — 67
3-point goals: LC 5 (Denetclaw 4, Dyer); WM 7 (Ortiz 3, Lucero 2, Brody, Holtz). Total fouls: LC 13; WM 13.