By Arnie Leshin
Whether or not you’re in favor of that time-consuming video replay, it didn’t suit well with Elmer Chavez.
Down 38-36 Friday afternoon in the 2A girl’s state basketball tournament championship at UNM’s Dreamstyle Arena, and with the clock showing 6.1 seconds in regulation, Chavez, the head coach of 8th seeded Mescalero Apache, watched sophomore Madison Yizos throw the ball the length of the court, where freshman Pearl Pike laid the ball in and was fouled.
A free throw by Pike would have brought the young Chiefs the title. So as Pike went to the foul line, the officials went to the scorer’s table to determine how much time remained after Pike tied the score. Now after a considerable delay and 0.1 seconds put back on the clock, Pike, whose only shot of the game just occurred, had extra time to think about the freebie.
But the 5-feet Pike drew iron, missed the shot, the game went into overtime, and Chavez had a lot to say about it.
“If they wouldn’t have had the delay on the review,” he said, “my girl would have made the free throw, but the delay froze her for about 10 minutes.”
If the charity toss had been good, Chavez would have won the championship as he did with Santa Fe High’s 4A girls in 2014. Instead, 3rd seed Pecos’ Ron Drake won his first state title in the 25 years he’s coached in New Mexico, and his Panthers also hoisted the blue trophy for the first time.
The overtime belonged to Pecos in a 53-46 final that brought a 23-6 record, and Mescalero Apache, tutored by the progress made by Chavez in his fourth season of a program that had never made a run like this, wound up at 23-8 after eliminating top-seeded, defending champion Texico in the semfinals.
That was a break for the Panthers who had lost twice to the district 7 Wolverines, and they took advantage of it, defeating 6th seeded Lordsburg, which had won 2-of-3 versus the district rival Chiefs.
“This means so much for Pecos and the community and the fans,” Drake said. “For me, I enjoy it, too, but I enjoy these girls more. It was a great fun this year and they worked so hard.”
But unlike Mescalero Apache, which does not have a senior on the roster, the Panthers do, and that includes Brittany Martinez, who had a game-high 22 points. There are five others, including team captain Cassie Muller, the 4-year mainstay, top rebounder Faith Flores, De Anza Dimas, Mariah Sandoval, and Mikayla Gonzales.
This was a game matching Drake and Chavez, both former head coach of the Santa Fe High girls. When Drake left to coach the St. Michael’s girls, Chavez became head coach, his initial team won only one game, but it rapidly became a threat for state honors, winning it all in his final season with the Demonettes.
This was a game that had more than its share of momentum swings, but none was more pivotal than at the end of regulation. After Flores converted a pair of foul shots to break a 36-36 tie and leave the Chiefs down by two with little time left.
“We were just praying that her foul shot wouldn’t go in,” said Panthers’ sophomore Trinity Herrera, who tossed in 14 points and brought down 11 rebounds, two less than Flores.
Pecos had the big edge in rebounds, 60-34, but missed 6-of-8 from the charity stripe down the stretch. Mescalero Apache’s roster has an 8thgrader, three freshmen, four sophomores and six juniors. No doubt the Chiefs expect to be after a state tile again.
The Panthers had been in two finals before, losing in 1983 to Escalante, 64-62, for their only defeat in 28 starts, and in 1967 to Taos Central, 56-45. Drake was last in the title game with the Demonettes in 1997, and lost to Gallup, 58-39.
Now the girls got to hoist the blue trophy while the Pecos boys try for their third straight state championship today.