One began the postseason as the hottest team in the field.
The other came in as the coldest.
Indeed, Las Cruces-Volcano Vista was surely not a final anybody could reasonably have projected.
But the Bulldawgs, on a late layup, and the Hawks, who continued their unlikely playoff push, are the matchup for Saturday night’s Class 6A boys basketball championship game.
Las Cruces edged Cleveland in a thriller, while Volcano Vista held off Atrisco Heritage in Thursday’s semifinals at the Pit.
Saturday’s title game tips off at 8 p.m.
No. 2 LAS CRUCES 47, No. 3 CLEVELAND 45: In a game that featured 16 lead changes — 10 in the third quarter alone — the Bulldawgs (27-4) had the ball with five seconds remaining, inbounding in front of their bench.
They barely beat the 5-second count before getting it in to R.J. Brown at the free-throw line. To his right, Marcus Scott cut to the basket — unguarded.
Brown found Scott, who laid it in with 2.2 seconds left to break a 45-all tie.
“We only ran (that play) in practice. That’s the first game situation where we ran it and had some success,” said Las Cruces coach William Benjamin, smiling.
Cleveland’s Tyrique Weaver had a clean look at a potential game-winning 3; his shot from about 22 feet away hit the backboard and then rimmed out at the buzzer.
Marcus Hill of the Storm (22-8) scored on a putback with 16.4 seconds to go to tie the game at 45, setting up the Bulldawgs’ final possession.
Cleveland started the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 40-34 lead. Markus Collins’ 3 for Las Cruces cut the deficit to 3 and stopped the Storm’s momentum cold.
“A huge 3,” Cleveland coach Sean Jimenez said. “If we could have got a stop there. …”
Down 41-37, Cruces embarked on an 8-0 run that included two baskets by Brown.
Collins led the Bulldawgs with 18 points. The 5-6 junior point guard also led his team in rebounding. Brown added 12 points and Scott had seven assists.
Hill had 15 points and 10 boards to pace Cleveland.
Las Cruces shot 60 percent (12 of 20) in the second half.
No. 2 LAS CRUCES 47, No. 3 CLEVELAND 45
CLEVELAND (22-8): Marcus Hill 15, Jayden Phillips 3, Jalen Munn 12, Marquise Hill 4, Tyrique Weaver 5, Nakqi Smith 1, Aamer Muhammad 5. Totals 16-48 10-16 45.
LAS CRUCES (27-4): Markus Collins 18, Cayden Sherwood 2, Rayshad Brown 2, R.J. Brown 12, Marcus Scott 4, Vincente Johnson 4, Devon Esslinger 5. Totals 18-39 7-11 49.
Cleveland 11 6 16 12 — 45
Las Cruces 11 7 16 13 — 47
3-point goals: C 3 (Phillips, Munn, Muhammad); LC 4 (Collins 4). Total fouls: C 15; LC 15.
No. 12 VOLCANO VISTA 49, No. 8 ATRISCO HERITAGE 45: The Hawks (17-12) on Saturday night will have a chance to actually top what Rio Rancho did last March as an 11 seed.
“What Rio Rancho did last year was amazing,” said Volcano Vista sophomore guard Andres Vigil. “And we’re coming out this year to do something more amazing.”
Thursday’s semi featured 12 lead changes. David Cormier of Volcano Vista scored a layup with 3 minutes left in the third quarter for a 29-28 lead. And the Hawks nursed that lead brilliantly the rest of the way.
Of course, it helps to have hired guns with terrific aim.
Vigil and junior Jorell Phillips both were outstanding from the arc, each making 3 out of 4.
Vigil hit two 3s in the final 42 seconds of the third quarter, including a 30-foot buzzer beater that put the Hawks in front 35-30. Vigil also nailed a huge 3 with 5:07 remaining for a 44-39 lead. On the next possession, Cormier, again dribbling into the lane with the speed of a point guard, scored on a driving layup for a 46-39 lead.
“When they got the lead, they spread us out, and David Cormier was very hard to stop,” Atrisco Heritage coach Adrian Ortega said.
Enrique Bibian of Atrisco (19-9), who led his team with 14 points and nine rebounds, scored on consecutive baskets to cut the deficit to 46-43 with 4:06 to go, but the Jags never had a shot attempt that could have tied the game.
This game was extraordinarily even, statistically, across the board. Where there was a glaring difference was the 3-point line.
Volcano Vista made 7 of 11. Atrisco Heritage labored, going 3 of 16.
ATRISCO HERITAGE (19-9): Angel Ramirez 3, Enrique Bibian 14, DeMarcus Sutphen 8, D.J. Ornelas 2, Diego Ortega 7, Jordan Arroyo 11. Totals 16-49 10-11 45.
Volcano Vista 10 8 17 14 — 49
Atrisco Heritage 9 9 12 15 — 45
3-point goals: VV 7 (Phillips 3, Vigil 3, Battle); AH 3 (Ortega, Ramirez, Sutphen). Total fouls: VV 12; AH 12.