One? Maybe you discard it as one of those nights.
Two, on back-to-back days, and suddenly everybody’s watching.
Although Centennial High School is in just its third season of varsity basketball, the Hawks have burst onto the scene in short order.
By the time the Centennial bus rolled into the parking lot at West Mesa High School on Friday afternoon, the Hawks had been tagged as the No. 1-ranked boys team in Class 5A by MaxPreps.com.
But that’s really not what grabs you about this program from Las Cruces, where the paint, metaphorically speaking, is still wet.
It’s the fact that the only two teams rated ahead of Centennial on an all-encompassing state poll – Hobbs and Cleveland – both lost to the Hawks on consecutive nights, and both as undefeated 6A teams.
“They’re legit. They’re the real deal,” said Cleveland head coach Brian Smith, a coach with a state championship.
Social media was abuzz after the Hawks toppled the Storm and Eagles at the Hobbs Holiday Tournament, for sure.
Inside the Centennial circle? Library-level serenity.
“It didn’t change anything for us,” said head coach Steve Heredia. “We’re an experienced, confident group. Expectations are at the sky level.”
A 60-59 loss Friday night at West Mesa may cause a stir in the short term, but big picture, Centennial (12-3) – a state semifinalist last March – is surely one of those teams in 5A that should have a fair chance to run down the Pit ramp multiple times in mid-March.
“This is gonna help us more,” point guard Cesar Molina said after the Mustangs stunned the Hawks with three free throws with 0.2 seconds remaining. “You learn more when you lose than when you win.”
Centennial continues its road trip today with a 2:30 p.m. game at Bulldog City against 13-1 Albuquerque High.
The 5A ranks have seen some separation in the first two-thirds of the season, with the Hawks, Roswell and Gallup inching ahead of the chasing pack.
Roswell is one of the other teams to have beaten Centennial, although that was in Roswell – and in overtime. The Hawks beat the Coyotes in the finals of the Belen tournament last month.
Hobbs, in the season’s first week, is the third team to have solved Centennial.
“Their whole philosophy is that our five is gonna beat your five,” Cleveland’s Smith said. “They’re a tough matchup for anybody. They’ve got quickness, shooters and scorers.”
It’s a far cry from Heredia’s first days at Centennial.
“I didn’t know what we had,” he said.
In the first season, it was a freshman-dominated lineup. Heredia was so focused on skill development, he said, that the Hawks didn’t lift a weight, as a group, until after the first season ended. They were 12-15, then a robust 20-7 last season.
Heredia, 38, spent nine seasons with then-head coach and current Hobbs coach Mike Smith at Las Cruces High. Heredia was Chaparral’s head coach for four seasons before joining the Centennial staff.
His Hawks’ resolve is undisputed. After three wins in three days in Hobbs, the Hawks had planned to return to Las Cruces. But they were socked in by snow.
With two more road games at the end of that week in Clovis and Artesia, Centennial just extended its trip by two days and won twice more.
“We’ve got a lot of people who can score, who can dribble, who can penetrate, who can hit shots and play defense,” said sophomore shooting guard Joe Saterfield, a transfer from Tularosa.
Molina, the junior point guard, said the Hawks’ weakness is not being able to finish close games, although Friday was perhaps the first concrete example of Centennial not doing so this season.
“George Maya (the Mayfield girls coach) recently won his 400th game, and I sent him a text. Two important things I learned from him is: ‘Stay humble and stay hungry.’ That’s what we’re trying to teach here.”
Heredia said his team has remained extremely level-headed despite its successes.
“They bought into what we’ve been preaching at them. It sounds cliché, but they’ve bought into what we’re doing,” Heredia said. “And here we are, 2½ years later, and we’re pretty happy with where we’re at.”