By Arnie Leshin
The unexpected occurred for the Santa Fe High boys in the state basketball tournament seedings announced Saturday night by the New Mexico Activities Association. They were expecting to be awarded first place in District 5-5A, but instead it went to Los Lunas, which dropped the Demons to the 8th seed in the 8-team shortened bracket.
At 9-3 overall, this lined up Santa Fe High to hit the road and contend with top-seeded Rio Rancho Cleveland on Tuesday. The Storm has won 11 of 12, with the winner taking on the survivor of the 4th-seeded Albuquerque Atrisco Heritage Academy contest against visiting 5th-seeded Albuquerque Sandia. Atrisco is 8-2 and Sandia 9-1.
Meanwhile, Los Lunas (11-3) received the No. 6 seed and will also have to travel when it plays at 3rd-seeded, undefeated Las Cruces (12-0), with the other pairing having 2nd-seeded Roswell (9-2) playing host to No. 7 Carlsbad (8-3).
It appeared that the Demons would win the district and get a higher seed. They split the two games with the Tigers, winning at home by 20 and losing on the road by 12. They swept crosstown, district rival Capital, which split with Los Lunas, while the Tigers took two from Albuquerque High and Santa Fe High split with the Bulldogs. Los Lunas did have the better overall record, but it’s still a mystery as to what occurred in choosing the district winner.
No matter, what happened happened. Now both teams take to the highway for the first round games or more correctly, the quarterfinals. The semifinals are scheduled for Thursday, with the championship game to be played Saturday at University of New Mexico’s Dreamstyle Arena before a limited number of fans allowed in the stands, which is better then last year when no spectators were allowed from the quarters to the finals.
That’s when Pecos won its fourth-straight state championship, two in 3A and 2 in 2A, and now, despite graduating its entire starting lineup and losing it head coach Ira Harge, Jr., to Espanola Valley as its athletic director, the Panthers have been a big surprise by owning a 9-2 record, finishing first in District 6 over Texico, the 7th-seed, and as the No. 3-seed, with a opening contest Monday against 6th-seeded Escalante (10-1). At home, Pecos is undefeated.
Also in 2A, Monte del Sol made it in with a 7-2 overall as the 8th-seed, and as District 2-2A champion after defeating Albuquerque Menual at Christian Life last Thursday. The Dragons, though, will have to travel Monday o top-seeded Gallup Rehoboth Christian, which is unbeaten in a dozen starts.
The 2nd-seed is undefeated Jal (12-0) and it will host Texico (8-3), which took second in its district after splitting with Pecos. The other pairing has 4th-seeded Mescalero Apache (11-1) having home court versus 5th-seeded Tularosa (9-2). The Rehoboth Christian-Monte del Sol winner plays the Mescalero Apache-Tularosa winner in the Wednesday semis, with the finals Friday.
In 3A, St. Michael’s (7-2) got in as an at-large team after coming in behind undefeated Robertson (12-0), and the 5th-seeded Horsemen will be at 4th-seeded Albuquerque Sandia Prep (9-1) Monday. The Cardinals are the No. 1 seed and will be home to 8th-seeded Cobre, which is 8-4. The 2nd-seed is Hot Springs (11-1) and it will play host to 7th-seeded Thoreau (9-3). Then there’s 3rd-seeded Navajo Prep (11-1) getting a visit from 6th-seeded New Mexico Military Institute (8-3).
In 4A, District 2-4A winner Espanola Valley (8-3) got the No. 2 seed and will have home court against 5th-seeded Kirtland Central (10-1) Tuesday. The No. 1 seed is Albuquerque Del Norte (9-1) and it will host 8th-seeded Albuquerque Highland (7-3). The 2nd-seed is Artesia (9-3) and it’s home against 7th-seeded Silver (8-3), while Gallup, the 3rd-seed at 9-1, welcomes 6th-seeded Bernalillo (10-2).
There are seven unbeaten teams in the field, two in small-school 1A where top-seeded Magdalena is 12-0 and plays visiting 8th-seeded Pine Hill, which is 1-10 but lost a few games versus 2A schools, and in its district lost one-point, two-point and 3-point games to get the final seed ahead of Hatch Valley (8-3), Reserve (9-1), and 7-4 Clovis Christian. The 2nd-seed, Melrose is the other unbeaten team at 11-0 and takes on visiting 7th-seeded Springer (7-3), while 3rd-seeded Elida (10-1) takes on 6th-seeded 2-school Albuquerque Evangel Christian Academy-Oak Grove Classical (6-3) and No. 4 Fort Sumner (8-3) is home to 5th-seeded Hatch Valley Christian (6-2).