By Arnie Leshin
Being deeper and taller once again paved the way to the fourth time this season that St. Michael’s has turned back Santa Fe Indian School, this time for the District 2-3A tournament championship at Perez-Shelley Memorial gymnasium Saturday night.
It put the top-ranked Horsemen at 19-8 overall after only a loss at West Las Vegas spoiled their hope for an undefeated district campaign. Still, they won 9 out 10 and again handled the challenges of the runner-up Braves and capped off by this 54-41 success.
This dropped Indian School to 17-11 overall and hopeful of perhaps landing among the first eight in the 16-school field and playing host for the first round. No problem for head coach David Rodriguez’ team. It will be home for its opener and might again even meet up later on with the Braves.
But first things first, and unlike the playoff for first place at St. Michael’s last week, this one didn’t go down to the final buzzer. Except for several runsand taking the lead a number of times by the smaller and less balanced Indian School, the Horsemen took advantage of their superior size in the paint and pulled away down the stretch.
Junior Thomas Wood, who goes 6-foot-2, did damage early when his first quarter brought seven points, four rebounds, and a blocked shot. But while they appeared to have the situation well in hand, the Horsemen were stunned by a 17-0 run from the Braves that helped score the last 12 points of the second quarter and brought a 23-22 lead at halftime as they outscored the home side 22-2 over a seven and a half between the second and third quarters.
Said Wood: “We got out of our game for a while there. Composure. We just had to get through and not make mistakes, and cut down on those things.”
So back came St. Michael’s. Down by eight points, it responded with a 15-0 run while Indian School went scoreless for the final four minutes of the third quarter. A 3-point play by 6-3 senior Hayden Lee put the Horsemen in a tie, and his two foul shots gave them the lead.
The advantage increased to seven points, but back came the Braves to trim the gap 43-41 with four minutes remaining in the final quarter. But Rodriguez again turned to his five-in, five-out rotation, and he considers these 10 as good as any in the district, as well as in the state.
This rotation put the stop on Indian School after it took an early 32-24 lead. In the third quarter, it shut down the Braves to put the home team in front for good. Wood led the way with a team-high 16 points while bringing down nine rebounds and blocking two shots.
But Rodriguez did say some positive things about Indian School, thinking of it being good enough to get a 4th seed and even get to play his team in the semis. That would bring a fifth timer and, who knows, the law of averages might finally favor the neighboring Braves.
But first things first.