The metro area is ripe with quality in the Class 4A boys basketball division.
Albuquerque Academy, the top-ranked team in New Mexico, is in the middle of a seven-day stretch in which it has the opportunity to separate itself from the rest.
The Chargers routed No. 7 Valley on Wednesday. They visit No. 2 Highland, the defending state champion, on Saturday afternoon. They match up with No. 5 Del Norte on Tuesday. And they’ve already had their way with No. 4 St. Pius, just a couple of weeks ago.
On Friday night, visiting Academy, with a spectacular offensive second half, rallied past No. 3 Hope Christian, 89-86 in an endlessly entertaining and frantically paced District 6-4A matchup.
Academy (14-2, 2-0 in 6-4A) scored 54 points after halftime and had three players finish with over 20 points. Senior guard Kellan Gehres shook off a slow start to finish with a team-best 26, including 19 in the final two quarters. Justin Mask scored 22 — 21 in the second half — and Joe Jack, who had all 16 of Academy’s points in the first quarter, finished with 21 points.
“We’re a running team, and that (second half) shows what we can do when we push the ball,” said Mask, a 6-foot junior. “Especially when we’re shooting well.”
The Chargers shot 75 percent in both the third (12 of 16) and fourth quarter (6 of 8), and finished 53.4% for the game (31-for-58).
And it wasn’t as though the Huskies (12-7, 1-1) were a slouch; Hope Christian shot 52.3% itself (34 of 65).
But Academy buried 13 3-pointers, compared to just two for the Huskies.
“We have lots of options,” Academy coach Marcos CdeBaca said. “If they’re gonna shut one of them down, we’ll go to somebody else.”
Jack carried his team early, although Hope Christian led 40-35 at halftime largely because the Huskies got to the free-throw line twice as much as Academy.
But the Chargers were a wonder in the third quarter. They made their first eight field-goal attempts (including all five tries from behind the arc), and the work of Gehres and Mask sparked Academy. Gehres had 13 points in the third quarter, Mask 10 as Academy stormed in front 57-48 not even midway through the quarter.
“Me and Justin we were cold in the first half, but in the second half, everything came together,” said Gehres. “We have a lot of scorers and we’re happy because we’re all coming together at the right time.”
Hope fought valiantly, and even pulled within two at 72-70 with 5:41 remaining in the game, but Mask buried a corner 3, Gehres finished at the hoop on a drive, and he also added a layup for a 79-70 Academy lead. Hope scored the game’s final five points for the final margin.
As for Saturday afternoon, Academy and Highland, in this much-anticipated 1 vs. 2 showdown, tip off at 2 p.m. The Hornets also played Friday, though they certainly expended far less energy in their win over Belen than the Chargers did in overcoming Hope Christian.
“I’m not putting too much into it (because of the quick turnaround), and we have Del Norte on Tuesday,” CdeBaca said. “So whatever happens tomorrow happens. It’s a good measuring stick.”
ALBUQUERQUE ACADEMY 89, HOPE CHRISTIAN 86
ACADEMY (14-2, 2-0 in 6-4A): Kellan Gehres 26, Jack Johnson 8, Dillon McCleskey 10, Sam James 2, Joe Jack 21, Justin Mask 22. Totals 31 14-18 89.
HOPE (12-7, 1-1): Jett Wyckoff 29, Jack Rupp 2, Noah Perry 16, Nathan Saavedra 6, Caden Williams 2, Christian Schermerhorn 28, Nico Gutierrez 2. Totals 34 16-18 86.
Academy 16 19 31 23 — 89
Hope 20 20 22 24 — 86
3-point goals: AA 13 (Gehres 5, Mask 3, Jack 2, Johnson 2, McCleskey); HC 2 (Wyckoff, Williams). Total fouls: AA 18; HC 19. Fouled out: HC, Rupp.