They’ve been ranked No. 1 and No. 2 for most of this 2022-23 journey, so it’s only proper that the Class 5A boys state basketball championship has come down to Volcano Vista and Sandia.
And like a turbo engine, there is the added adrenaline of having brothers as the head coaches.
Greg Brown and Danny Brown first coached against each other almost 20 years ago in the 2003-04 season. They met numerous times when Greg was at Manzano and Danny was at Highland. And they’ve met many times with Greg at Volcano Vista and Danny at Sandia.
At 8 p.m. Saturday, they face each other for the first time as playoff adversaries.
“It’s gonna be extremely competitive,” Greg Brown said.
Danny Brown has never beaten Volcano Vista while he has been at Sandia. The Matadors – and Hawks, for that matter – are coming off narrow, tense victories in Thursday’s semifinals. Sandia also stunned Cleveland on Wednesday in the quarterfinals in overtime.
Now they’ll hook up for the fourth time this season. Will it be close? Consider that the first six games in the 5A bracket this week at the Pit were decided by a total of 18 points.
“We all want our shot at them,” Sandia guard Dalen Moyer said after the Matadors’ 49-45 win Thursday against Los Lunas.
“This,” Volcano Vista guard Anthony Gonzales said after the Hawks edged Organ Mountain 48-46 late Thursday, “is the game we wanted, too.”
Volcano Vista-Sandia is the last of seven championship games at the Pit on Saturday as the season closes. The first game tips off at 8 a.m., with the other six starting at two-hour intervals until the Hawks and Matadors take the floor.
The Brown brothers are planning to be in purple shirts on Saturday night, a tribute to their late father, Mike, who died in 2021 from MSA, or Multiple System Atrophy. Purple is the official color of MSA awareness.
Volcano Vista (28-1) won 73-67 at Sandia on Nov. 29. Volcano Vista won 48-44 in the Clovis tournament final. And the Hawks held off the Matadors 69-66 in the metro final on Jan. 7. Sandia was down 17 that night with six minutes to go, but cut the deficit to one with six seconds left.
The Matadors (26-5), whose 49 points Thursday were their second-lowest total of its season, haven’t won state in 38 years and haven’t appeared in a final since 2003. Volcano Vista is the defending state champion. But the Hawks barely got here. On Thursday night, a late steal by Gonzales, and then a feed to Kenyon Aguino, led to a layup that beat pesky and persistent Organ Mountain. The Hawks were trailing for a majority of that semifinal – 22½ minutes, to be exact, and led for only four minutes.
“Beyond luck,” Greg Brown said after the victory.
Danny Brown is in his second state final. La Cueva beat his Highland Hornets to end the 2008-09 season.
• Volcano Vista, meanwhile, has a chance to sweep, just as it did last year.
The 5A girls final tips off at 2 p.m. Saturday, as No. 1 Hobbs (27-3) and No. 3 Volcano (26-3) meet in the championship for the fourth straight season. The Eagles won it all in 2020, the Hawks in 2021 (Natalia Chavez half-court overtime buzzer beater, anyone?) and then went undefeated as they repeated a year ago.
Hobbs will not have sophomore forward (and starter) Kyndle Cunningham available. She was called for flagrant foul in Thursday’s semifinals against La Cueva and ejected. Hobbs coach Joe Carpenter appealed; the New Mexico Activities Association denied that appeal on Friday, Carpenter said.
• The Class 4A boys final starts after the 5A girls, at 4 p.m. An important question: will Albuquerque Academy’s standout senior guard, Kellan Gehres, be available? He injured his ankle Wednesday in the quarterfinals against Deming, and played less than a minute for the No. 1 seed (26-3) in Thursday’s 44-42 semifinal win over Valley. Gehres is one of 4A’s top players and the Chargers’ leading scorer.
If he doesn’t play, that might open the door for No. 6 seed Hope Christian, which finished second to Academy in District 67-4A. Only Hobbs, with 17 titles, has more basketball championships than the Huskies, who have 16, the last one coming five years ago. Academy is 3-0 this season against Hope (21-10).
• The 3A boys final, at noon, also pairs district rivals, as No. 1 St. Michael’s (26-4) plays No. 3 Robertson (25-5). The Horsemen have won all three meetings this season.
• No. 1 Pecos (27-3) and No. 2 ATC (26-6) – the Academy for Technology and the Classics, from Santa Fe – are in Saturday’s first game, at 8 a.m. The Panthers blasted ATC 81-50 in the regular season.
• Class 1A has its first final at 10 a.m., with To’hajiilee (27-1 – the loss was to 3A finalist Santa Fe Indian), a 4 seed coming off an upset win over No. 1 Melrose in the semis – facing No. 2 Roy/Mosquero (27-2).
• The game preceding Sandia-Volcano Vista, at 6 p.m., is the 1A boys final with No. 1 Magdalena (31-0) against No. 2 Fort Sumner/House (28-2). The Steers won 43-39 in a regular-season meeting Dec. 29. That was by far Magdalena’s smallest margin of victory this season.