The pressure of having the No. 1 seed at the state tournament didn’t seem to bother Hondo Valley much last year. The Eagles rolled to the Class B championship, winning their three games by an average of 24 points.
So don’t expect Hondo to carry much burden on its collective mind as it tries to repeat. Tabbed the top seed once again, Hondo Valley is the clear favorite as the state quarterfinals get underway on Wednesday at Bernalillo High School.
If there is a “what me, worry?” attitude with the Eagles, it might most clearly be presented in their offensive approach.
Coach Brad Holland’s group likes to get down the court and shoot the long-range bomb – at least according to other Class B coaches – at the first opportunity.
“Hondo is tough. Anyone who wants to beat them has to stop their guards,” Quemado coach David Lackey said. “They have no conscience. You give them a foot and it’s a good shot, they they let it fly.”
“The bad thing is you can stop one player and they’ve got three more to pick up the slack,” Carrizozo coach Trampus Pierson said. “If they’re shooting the ball really well, they’re really hard to stop.”
In the first round, Hondo Valley (23-3) will take on eighth-seeded Walatowa Charter (14-12). The underdog Cougars’ task will be to get a handle on double-digit scorers Jordan Brady, Roberto Nores and Billy Candelaria in hopes of an upset.
For his part, Holland tries to deflect some attention from his squad. At least, as much as possible.
“We’re not as big as we were last year,” Holland said. “And Carrizozo and Quemado are real physical teams. Evangel (Christian) also has a couple of good pieces.”
In another quarterfinal, fourth-seeded Evangel Christian (21-7) from Albuquerque will take on fifth-seed Wagon Mound (17-11).
A year ago, it was Wagon Mound which advanced to the Class B championship before falling to Hondo. The Trojans have since reasserted themselves behind returning starters Gabriel Cruz, who averages 19 points a game, and 6-foot-5 junior post Danny Gray Jr. – son of head coach Danny Gray.
“We took our knocks here and there, but I’m hoping it pays off now,” coach Gray said. “Our game is to stay calm and slow the game down. We don’t have the numbers – we have (only) eight guys – that most everybody else does.”
The other half of the bracket will feature Carrizozo and Quemado, two district rivals who are seeded second and third, respectively, in the Class B draw.
Defensive-minded Carrizozo (19-7) will play Lake Arthur (12-14). Lawry Johnson is Carrizozo’s leading scorer while teammates Josh Ventury, Zack Zamora, Nick Chavez and Dalton Vega all hover at or just under an average of 10 points per game.
“It’s been a growing process for us all year, and fortunately we’re playing our best basketball this time of year,” Grizzlies coach Pierson said. “We’re going to look to our defense. We’ve been able to hold some really good teams to under what they’re used to.”
Carrizozo, after having beaten Quemado twice this season, couldn’t do it in the district championship. The Eagles, now with momentum to go with their third seed, will bring a 20-8 record against sixth-seeded San Jon (11-11).
Darryn Lackey is Quemado’s senior point guard, and his team will look to him and backcourt mate Matt Rodriguez, the Eagles’ senior shooting guard, for leadership at the state tourney.
“If we can put together a consistent performance, we can make some noise,” said Quemado coach David Lackey.