By Arnie Leshin
The St. Michael’s boys made their way up to Espanola Valley knowing they had to play well when they met up with top-ranked Robertson Monday night in the District 2-3A playoff for first place.
And they did. Six of their players scored all of their points and it brought a 62-59 victory over the streaking Cardinals, as well as finishing first at 10-1 and being the host team for the district tournament. So they don’t play again until Friday night‘s district final, and are now 18-9 overall.
It was 6-foot senior Devin Flores who was chili-hot in the first half with 19 of his 22 points. Overall, he made good on 6 of 11 tries from the floor and was 8 of 9 from the foul line. And over the first two quarters his team committed only two turnovers to 11 for the Cardinals.
Robertson (21-6) fell behind early, trailed by 19-10 after one quarter and 36-27 at halftime, and every time the Cards chased, St. Michael’s didn’t panic, and followed a Robertson basket with one of its own, namely from Flores, 6-2 sophomore Lucas Coriz, 5-9 senior Ruben Salazar, 5-11 senior Berkeley Reynolds, and 6-foot senior Rico Gurule.
The Horsemen saw the Cardinals creep to with 44-41 and 44-43 late in the third quarter, but again they responded and at no time did Robertson pass them despite closing the gap to 55-52 on a bucket from sophomore guard Matthew Gonzales, who had the game-high 25 points, and he then converted a pair of free throws to get to within 60-57 with 1:20 left.
But Dave Rodriguez’ team kept its poise as it did all game. Flores tossed in 1 of 2 charity shots to make it a 4-point game, and Gonzales’ 1 of 2 free throws made it 60-57 with 0:26.2 on the clock. Salazar then added to the lead at clutch time by making the front end of a 1 and 1 from the line to offset the first of two foul shots made by Robertson’s 6-4 Julius Barnes with 0:2.7 left. His second attempt was to hit the rim and maybe get the rebound and try a 3.
But it didn’t work, and now the Cardinals and their cross town rival West Las Vegas will probably meet again in the Wednesday semifinals to be played at Robertson. The Dons had been part of the 3-way first place tie that forced this playoff, but the tiebreaker for this placed them third and out of the running.
And not to forget the 7-game win streak that came to a halt for the Cards. Also, the Horsemen played their second-straight contest without 6-2 senior Thomas Wood, probably their best player.
But along with Flores, Coriz scored a dozen before he fouled out late, Salazar added 11, Reynolds eight, Gurule six, and 5-10 freshman Santiago Montoya contributed three.
There were a number of good things Rodriguez had to say about his out- sized team coming through when it counted, with first place at stake and a high seed to go with the triumph.
“We played much better tonight,” said the coach. “Against Robertson and West Las Vegas last time we couldn’t play defense, this time we did, this time we made big shots, we hustled, and I’m proud of the kids. Hopefully we have a big crowd at our game Friday night.”