The final stretch of the basketball season gets under way tonight.
Twenty-four boys and girls teams from throughout northern New Mexico will battle this weekend for the right to extend their season another week. Area teams from Class A through 4A begin with opening-round action at the home of the higher seed. The winners then move on to various locations throughout Albuquerque, Rio Rancho and Bernalillo, beginning Tuesday. And from there, tournament action moves to The Pit.
DEMONETTES READY FOR 4A TITLE RUN:
Elmer Chavez believed his team had done enough.
Santa Fe (26-2) has the best record in the classification.
It even won its regular-season and district-tournament championships.
But what Chavez learned is that getting the No. 1 seed in 4A requires more than that. Exactly how much more, he isn’t entirely sure.
“Our schedule was just as tough as theirs, but they have four losses and we have two,” said coach Chavez, whose Demonettes earned the No. 2 seed, while defending champion Los Lunas (24-4) was ranked No. 1. “Nine coaches told me they put us No. 1, so I thought we’d be ranked No. 1.
“I just don’t know. But I’m not really worried about that. Right now, I have bigger fish to fry.”
Like advancing to the state quarterfinals with a win tonight. The Demonettes play host to No. 15 Grants at 7 p.m.
The Pirates (12-15) finished last in District 6, having dropped seven of their final eight games. But with regular-season wins over No. 14 Los Alamos and No. 6 Valencia, Grants has shown glimpses of its potential – and Chavez said his squad isn’t taking any chances. “At this stage, anybody can beat anybody,” he said.
Santa Fe enters the state tourney having won six straight games, including back-to-back victories against No. 5 Española Valley. The Demonettes’ last loss was against the Sundevils on Feb. 7. Meanwhile, the District 2 runner-up Sundevils (21-7) play host to No. 12 Belen (12-13). The Eagles finished fifth in the six-team District 6, losing five of their final six games. Los Alamos (13-15) rounds out the District 2 squads in the state tournament, traveling to face No. 3 St. Pius (21-5). The Sartans were the District 5 champions and enter tonight’s contest on an eight-game win streak, dating back to Jan. 31.
SUNDEVILS PREP FOR HOSTILE CROWD: Española Valley (15-11) has grown accustomed to having one of the biggest home-court advantages in the state, due in large part to its raucous fans who consistently pack Edward Medina Gymnasium. And Sundevils coach Richard Martinez believed his squad had done enough to earn one more game on their home floor.
Well, he was wrong.
Despite winning the District 2 title, Española Valley was seeded ninth and will be the only boys 4A district champ on the road, traveling to face No. 8 Gallup (16-11), which is the District 6 runner-up.
“I don’t know how they come up with it, and I don’t think we got a fair cut, but what are you going to do?” Martinez asked. “We may not have the best record, but we played a pretty darn tough schedule. … I guess next year I’ll just have to weaken my schedule, get our 20 wins and make the top eight.”
Perhaps. And Martinez’s gripe this season may be justified as the Sundevils head into hostile territory, playing against a Bengals team that is also known for having a rabid following. “There are two places in the state you don’t want to play,” Martinez said. “It’s Española and Gallup – our fans bring it every night and so do theirs. It’s not going to be easy for us, but we’ll be ready.”
Gallup enters the tourney with three wins in its last five outings, including two losses to District 6 champion, No. 2 Los Lunas (22-5). Capital is the only other District 2 team to get a bid. The No. 15 Jaguars (10-16) travel to face No. 2 Los Lunas (22-5).
PLAY IT AGAIN – AND AGAIN AND AGAIN … : Ron Drake has certainly heard the old adage that practice makes perfect – he may have even said it himself on occasion. Now the Pojoaque Valley coach is hoping that after three losses already this season against the St. Michael’s Lady Horsemen, the fourth time may end with a different result.
“I don’t know if we’re cursed or what, but we can’t seem to get past them,” Drake said. “So aside from scoring one more point than them, I think if we can just got to keep them off the boards we should be all right.”
But just because his team had won its three previous matchups – St. Mike’s has won by margins of 16, seven and 16 points, respectively – Lady Horsemen coach Martin Romero said it’s no guarantee that his squad can make it four in a row. And all he has to do is look back at the events of this past weekend for proof.
“We beat (Santa Fe Indian School) twice by double digits and then lost. So the girls understand what can happen,” said Romero, whose squad was upset by the Lady Braves in the first round of the District 5 tournament. “… But you either get better or worse – no team stays the same.
“From our last outing, we can only get better.”
In Las Vegas, District 2 champion No. 5 West Las Vegas (19-8) plays host to No. 12 Thoreau (17-9), while No. 8 Robertson (14-14) plays host to No. 9 Silver (17-10). No. 16 Taos travels to face top-ranked Shiprock (26-0), and No. 14 Santa Fe Indian School (10-18) is on the road to take on No. 3 Portales (21-5).
THE RISE OF WEST: Behind 6-foot-2 freshman phenom D.J. Bustos, there’s no doubt the future of West Las Vegas Dons basketball is bright.
But not even WLV coach David Bustos – D.J.’s father – could predict how dazzling his squad would be become so quickly.
The Dons cruised to a 7-1 District 2 record, clinching the regular-season league title, and enter the state tournament with a 17-8 mark and a No. 4 overall seed. But late season losses to No. 11 Pojoaque Valley, and then to No. 5 Taos in the championship game of the district tournament, simply demonstrate how much room for growth this precocious WLV squad still has, David Bustos said.
“We were up 16 points and then got really indecisive in the fourth quarter,” he said. “… We didn’t close out the game and hopefully we can learn from it. We are a young team and have never been in that situation before. The kids got caught up in the heat of the moment. But quite honestly, everything from here on out is icing on the cake. I never thought we would be in the district championship game. I didn’t think we would go 7-1 in district, especially with Taos and Pojoaque coming back with a lot of returners and a lot of experience. I’m just really happy with where we are at.
“But since we’re here, we might as well dance.”
And if all goes according to plan Saturday when the Dons play host to No. 14 Thoreau at 4 p.m., waiting in the wings is a potential fourth matchup against No. 5 Taos in the 3A quarterfinals.
“From our standpoint, we were hoping to see another team,” Bustos said. “But sometimes it’s good when you know exactly what you’re going to get.”
The Tigers (22-6) play host to No. 12 Ruidoso (10-17) in opening-round action. And the prospect of meeting WLV for a fourth time was also met with a lukewarm reception by Taos coach Daniel Trujillo.
“Maybe because of the size of the state, there’s just not enough teams out there,” he said. “You would think by the time you get to the state tournament you’d see some schools you’ve never heard of before. The toughest thing is that the kids don’t get a broader experience. You expect to play a team from down south or play someone from the northwest, not someone you’ve been playing against for a whole two months. We’ll just accept this as another challenge.”
After losing to WLV in two matchups during the regular season, the Tigers broke though, earning a 65-63 victory this past Saturday to win the district tourney title. And if Taos can advance to the semifinals, its projected opponent will be another squad it lost to during the regular season – the immovable object of Class 3A, No. 1-seeded Hope Christian.
“Our guys are buying into this being our revenge tour. We thought we were done with West but it’s like a pro series against those guys, we may get a game seven,” said Trujillo, laughing. “… Then hopefully we get our revenge game against Hope. But first, we have to take care of business against the unknown Ruidoso.”
The Warriors finished last in the three-team District 4. Against common opponents Robertson, WLV, Lovington and Goddard, Ruidoso is 2-5 against a 5-2 mark for Taos.
Rounding out area 3A squads are St. Michael’s (21-7), which earned the No. 2 seed in the tournament and play host to No. 15 Robertson (10-17). The Elks (14-14) travel to face No. 6 Lovington (13-14); and No. 14 Santa Fe Indian School (8-19) is on the road against No. 3 Silver (22-4).