By Arnie Leshin
Enough, after already losing four times to St. Michael’s, the Santa Fe Indian School boys finally broke loose and knocked out the Horsemen in Friday’s state tournament semifinals of 3A at UNM’s Dreamstyle Arena.
The final score of 48-35 advanced the 4th seeded Braves to their first state final since hoisting the blue trophy in 1989, when under Mike Parton, they went 24-1 and turned back Hot Springs, 55-52, in the final.
Again they face Hot Springs, the 3rd seed that ousted 2nd seeded Albuquerque Sandia Prep in the other semifinals. It hasn’t been this far since winning state in 1991 and 1993 after losing in three other title games.
And eliminated was top 3A seed St. Michaels, which had defeated Indian School home and away during the regular season, again in the playoff game for first place at the Perez-Shelley gymnasium, and back again at the same site for the district tournament final.
But this time, it was all Braves. They began with a burst, scoring eight unanswered points and never trailed. Back-to-back 3s from Andres Pecos and Jaden Aguino began things, and Indian School was on its way to its 20th win in 31 starts, but never lost track of the four defeats to the Horsemen.
Following another Pecos 3, the lead ballooned to 23-10 after one quarter. Only when St. Michael’s went on a 17-5 run to get within a point in the third quarter, did it appear to be a clash to the finish. But the Horsemen had five chances to grab the lead, but never did.
“They had a hot hand, everyone could see it,” said head coach David Rodriguez of St. Michael’s. “We couldn’t get out there. We’d be back on our heels on screens and back screens and switching.”
It was 6-foot-4 senior James Bridges, the Braves’ top player, who paved the way with a game-high 19 points, and he also scrubbed the boards for 11 rebounds.
Bridges came to the rescue when the lead was cut to 28-27 by hitting a long-range jumper, and a minute later scored on a mid-range jumper to open a 7-point lead after three quarters. Then Indian School went on a 8-0 run and held the Horsemen scoreless over the last 4:25.
St. Michael’s was 12-for-36 from the floor, missed its six 3-point attempts, and were outrebounded by the smaller Braves. Freshman Devon Flores was the lone Horsemen in double figures with 11, senior Dominic Morgan added nine, and no one else had more than four. Aguino tossed in 13 for Indian School.
St. Michael’s finished at 20-9 and loses eight seniors. Nothing came easy for the Braves, as they trailed 5th seed Cuba until the final minute of a 45-43 triumph in the quarterfinals.