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Pecos boys reel in a second-straight state 3A basketball championship

Pecos boys reel in a second-straight state 3A basketball championship Saturday by downing unbeaten Texico, 58-44, at Dreamstyle Arena Panthers were “relaxed” before they took the floor, said head coach Ira Harge, Jr., “they weren’t going to give up their championship”

By Arnie Leshin 
Arnie Leshin

With the schedule they played, with the players they returned, and with their faithful fans setting the tone, Pecos’ boys added a second-straight 3A state tournament basketball championship in a Saturday morning contest in which they faced the state’s lone undefeated team, Texico, the top seed.

No sweat, well not as much as some had feared, just a 58-44 statement the 3rd seeded Panthers pieced together to hand the stunned Wolverines their initial setback in 30 starts. Last year’s win in the final for Pecos over Santa Rosa was the program’s first since 1966, now it can brag about going back-to-back.

And looking forward to another warm welcome when they arrive back in Pecos this afternoon. They spent a second night in Albuquerque and were preparing to board the bus home with another blue trophy.

It was its seventh trip to the final four and head coach Ira Harge, Jr., knows he will lose seven seniors, but those that return will value the experience they gathered in a 28-3 season.

As a player at Albuquerque St. Pius X, Harge celebrated a state title in the 1981-82 season over Tucumcari, and now has back-to-back success for the first time as a coach.

“My kids came out relaxed,” he said. “They had last year’s experience and the confidence, so it didn’t matter that we were the 3rd seed and that Texico was undefeated.”

The Wolverines had the gaudy record, but the Panthers had the key ingredients as they again put together a balanced attack, a sticky defense, positioned for rebounds, and scored from inside and outside. Not much height in the lineup, but it didn’t matter.

It was a team with desire. It was a group of youngsters who grew up together on the basketball courts in Pecos, and the way this little town off of 1-25 supports its athletes, it is only routine that plans for another parade is on the menu.

Texico, which will hook up next season in a new district (5-2A) that includes Clayton and familiar foe Santa Rosa, was hoping to be adding a state title to go with its unblemished record, except the Panthers were prepared to hoist the blue trophy again.

In the semifinals, they handily desposed of 2nd seeded Estancia, one of three teams that had defeated them, 73-62, and the other losses were to 4A top-seeded Bernalillo in overtime, and to 6A Santa Fe High. But most important, Harge’s team ran off 10-straight wins down the stretch.

It was misleading that Texico took a 37-35 lead into the fourth quarter, because Pecos pushed the pace with its pressure and quickness, and executed its 1-3-1 zone to both clog up the middle and contain the 6-foot-5 post Nathan Phipps, as well as forcing the tempo.

And so when Pecos’ 6-foot senior Mario Archuleta tossed in a floater in the lane late in the final quarter, it brought the Panthers a 45-37 lead behind a 21-3 run. Meanwhile, the Wolverines did not score in the first 3:13 of the quarter and turned the ball over six times as the Pecos defense wore them down.

Offensively, the Panthers relied on their balanced attack. When 5-9 sophomore Anthony Armijo tossed in a 3 for the last of his team’s total of 10 from out there, Archuleta came up with a steal and was fouled. He converted both freebies and shortly after, he electrified the Pecos faithful with a basket while hitting the floor and it was 45-37. Then there was 6-foot senior guard Josh DeHerrera adding 10 points.

Meanwhile, Texico, which had been the lone unbeaten team in the state, had nothing left to counter the Panthers’ onslaught.

“We had a tough schedule,” said Harge, “and it contributed greatly to a game like this. And it was great to see my dad and brother there to root us on. In fact, my dad just called to congratulate me, and that was great.”

Pecos is expected to return the versatile Armijo, 6-foot sophomore Xavier Padilla, its top rebounder, 5-11 junior Omar Dominguez, 5-5 sophomore guard Devin Gonzales, 6-2 sophomore post Ismael Villegas, 5-7 junior guard Issac Gonzales, and let’s not forget the junior varsity coached by Dominick Baca, winning 11 of a dozen starts.

And kudos to the seniors who paved the way, Archuela, DeHerrera, Carlos Cordova, Michael Montano, Christian Anaya, the tallest Panther at 6-2, Jacob Varela, the co-captain with Archuleta, and Sebastian Gomez.

Yes, Harge and company earned yet another parade.

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