Eloy Brazil’s story is a bona fide New Mexico high school coaching tale and it was punctuated Saturday morning in the Pit when his Maxwell Bears beat neighbor Springer 63-53 in the Class 1A boys tournament championship.
It was the first state title for the Maxwell boys, who had never played a game in the Pit before Saturday. The program last made the championship game in 1960 when it lost to Eunice in Class B. The only other time the Bears made the finals was in 1954 when they were beaten by Alfred E. Romero’s Wagon Mound team, a couple of weeks before Brazil was born.
But this is Brazil’s fourth state title. The first came in 1979 when he coached Cimarron (where he graduated from in 1972) to the Class 1A crown. In 2002 and 2004, he guided Springer to 1A titles.
“They’re all special,” Brazil said. “But I think this one was a little bit closer to the heart.”
Brazil’s mother, Angie, died in December. Angie was one of the reasons Brazil stayed in the northern New Mexico corridor even as other chances beckoned.
“It was rough, but the boys supported me,” Brazil said. “And I supported them.”
The Bears (28-3 and seeded No. 2) often use their starting five for 30-plus minutes as they did in the semifinal win over Melrose and again on Saturday.
“I’ve always said, I’m kind of like a jockey — a heavy jockey,” Brazil said. “But I’ve got a good thoroughbred to ride.”
Senior Aaron Salazar scored 17 points (and was 8-of-10 at the foul line), junior Carl Gonzales delivered 16 points and six rebounds, 6-foot-3 freshman Kolten Riggs had 10 points and 14 boards, sophomore Jeremy Archuleta added 10 boards and four assists, and senior Andrew Archuleta had 13 points and ran the show.
Fifth-seeded Springer (23-10) went up 14-4 in the middle of the first quarter on a 3-pointer by senior Estevan Romero, who had 20 points. The game was tied at 33-33 before Maxwell went on a 14-2 run. The Red Devils trailed only 51-50 with 4:48 left, but the Bears hit key free throws the rest of the way.
“It came down to shots here and there that could have changed everything,” first-year Springer coach John Chavez said. “Much respect to Maxwell, our neighbors and our brothers.”
This was the sixth meeting between the schools this season, with Maxwell winning four times.
Andrew Archuleta considers the Red Devils more rivals than neighbors. “They’re not easy,” he said. “They’re a good team. We’re cool with them. They come to our open gym and play — which is good for us because we know what they’re good at and what they’re not.”
Brazil still lives in Cimarron. In 1990, he had a choice to coach either Springer or Maxwell, which are about 14 miles apart along I-25. He chose the Red Devils and he is the last coach to lead Springer to a state title. Five years ago, Maxwell again offered him its job.
“I felt like I owed them,” Brazil said. “I owed them at least a shot to try and build a program.”
TALKING PRACTICE: Practices are not always easy for small schools such as Maxwell, which has about 30 high school students.
About three years ago coach Brazil got permission to let sixth-grader Kolten Riggs (now a 6-foot-3 freshman) practice with the varsity to have enough bodies.
This year’s state championship team has only eight players, but Brazil doesn’t coddle them.
“It’s not easy,” Bears senior Andrew Archuleta said of playing for Brazil. “Lots of yelling in practice. He pushes us.”
Brazil, who has been a high school coach in New Mexico since 1976, said he has evolved.
“I used to be one of those coaches who had them do laps, do sprints,” Brazil said. “Somewhere along the line I found out you can get into condition doing basketball drills. So we do a lot of basketball drills.”
DEAL WITH THE DEVILS: Some of the Springer Red Devils, who finished second in last year’s Class 1A tournament, felt slighted by their No. 5 seeding this year.
“Our battle cry was: No mercy,” Springer senior Isaiah Garcia said. “Go ahead, sleep on us. No one gave us any chance.”
Springer knocked off No. 4 Hondo Valley and No. 1 Quemado before falling to Maxwell.
It was a tough way to end for the team that had eight seniors.
“It’s such a small community,” Springer coach John Chavez said. “You watch these guys grow up. You coach them in Little League. At some point all of these kids have run in and out of my house, had a sandwich or a coke. It’s hard. But they will always be my kids. I will always love them.”
Class 1A Boys
NO. 2 MAXWELL 63,
NO. 5 SPRINGER 53
SPRINGER (23-10): Bryan Romero 5-11 1-3 13, Jacob Quintana 1-1 0-0 2, Gabriel Garcia 0-1 0-0 0, Damien Blaubach 1-7 0-0 2, Estevan Romero 7-18 2-4 20, Isaiah Garcia 5-19 1-2 12, Zac Caldwell 0-3 2-2 2, Zach Sanchez 1-4 0-0 2. Totals 20-64 6-11 53.
MAXWELL (28-3): Wesley Jeffery 0-0 0-0 0, Carl Gonzales 7-20 1-2 16, Aaron Salazar 3-8 8-10 17, Devon Cruz 0-0 0-0 0, Kolten Riggs 3-7 4-4 10, Jeremy Archuleta 3-6 1-2 7, Andrew Archuleta 3-5 7-12 13, Ricci Molina 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-46 21-30 63.
Springer 18 15 6 14 — 53
Maxwell 16 15 18 14 — 63
3-point FGs: S 7-25 (B. Romero 2-4, Blaubach 0-3, E. Romero 4-11, I. Garcia 1-7); M 4-14 (Gonzales 1-6, Salazar 3-7, Riggs 0-1). Rebounds: S 36 (I. Garcia 7); M 49 (Riggs 14). Assists: S 5 (Quintana 2, I. Garcia 2). M 10 (J. Archuleta 4). Total Fouls: S 24, M 10. Fouled Out: Quintana, Caldwell, Sanchez).