Nervous time down the stretch as Pecos’ boys defeat Mora, 80-68, Saturday night for the championship of the 17th annual Ben Lujan basketball tournament
Third place to Santa Fe Indian School over El Paso Bel Air in the tournament played at Pojoaque Valley
By ARNIE LESHIN
With all the years that Ira Harge has spent in the world of basketball, he still gets nervous. Nervous despite his high school All-America status while playing in Mississippi, nervous while helping put University of New Mexico on the basketball map, nervous while being tall and talented in the American Basketball Association, the red, white and blue league.
These days, the 6-foot-9 Harge is in his fourth year as head coach of the Pecos High boy’s basketball team, and even though his team came away with its sixth win in seven starts by turning away, Mora, 80-68, Saturday night in the championship of the 17th annual Ben Lujan tournament played at Pojoaque Valley, there were nervous moments down the stretch.
Especially for Harge. Down 55-34 with the third quarter in its final minute, the Rangers (5-3) began converting free throws, connecting on 16 of 19 and cutting the gap to 74-69 on Santiago Laumbach’s 3 with 58 seconds remaining.
“Oh yes, I was nervous,” Harge said. “They kept clipping away, clipping away, and I even told my guys that this is a very gutty team we’re playing. Last year in the Northern Rio Grande tournament, we were up seven with two minutes left and lost. So this was nervous time for me.”
But Pecos, wearing the same green and gold colors that Harge wore with the 1968-69 ABA-champion Oakland Oaks, held on. It won because of its up-and-down style, its tempo that forced 24 of Mora’s 28 turnovers over the first three quarters, as well as making good on 20 of 39 shots from the floor over that stretch.
Then add the firepower, more speed and more depth for the Panthers. It played most of the second half with junior guard Mark Archuleta sporting four fouls. It was a contest with plenty of fouls, so Harge was happy that his bench did its part.
“For some of these guys, it’s their fourth year with me,” Harge said, “and so this is the style we have to play. We want to be controlled chaos.”
Going to the charity stripe was a familiar sight. Mora made good on 30 of 40 tries and Pecos went 21 for 29. But aside from this, the advantage was all Panthers and Harge was able to take a deep breath when the final buzzer sounded.
“I might have been nervous,” he said, “but at times like that, my strategy is to stay calm. If I don’t stay calm, they won’t.”
Third place went to Santa Fe Indian School with a 60-57 comeback over El Paso Bel Air from Texas. Trailing most of the way, the Braves (9-4) finally took a 53-52 lead on Raheem Alonzo’s basket with less than four minutes left
The Highlanders (7-7) got within 56-55 as time wound down, but Indian School managed to hold on.
Laguna-Acoma (4-3) picked up seventh place by defeating Desert Academy, 83-69. The Wildcats fell to 4-6 with their sixth consecutive loss, but had the game-high 31 points from senior John Rigatti.
In other games, undefeated Capital won its 11th in a row by turning in a 62-55 win over Artesia, The Jaguars turned it up in the third quarter with a 16-3 run to take a 47-28 lead in the non district contest. Senior Tyler Alarid paved the way with 20 points for Capital, and sophomore Matt Smith tossed in 15 as four Jags scored in double figures.
West Las Vegas defeated visiting Santa Fe High, 58-49 in overtime in non district play. The Demons (7-4) led 51-46 with five minutes to go in regulation, and 47-44 with time running out, but the Dons (7-2) got a 3 from freshman John Balizan at the final buzzer, and outscored Santa Fe High, 11-2, in the OT,
Espanola Valley lost for the first time in eight starts as Grants won 73-66, at the Eddie Pena Holiday Round Robin Classic. Grants led 41-31 at halftime, built it to 52-37, and then the Sundevils went on a 10-0 run to get within 52-47 heading into the fourth quarter.
The teams will go at it again on Friday, with the contest at Espanola.