By Arnie Leshin
Eighth seed versus ninth seed always figures to be a tight tussle, and Saturday night at Toby Roybal Memorial gymnasium, that’s where you will find No. 9 against No. 8 in the first round of the boys state basketball tournament.
The girls began the tournament Friday and play next in the Tuesday quarterfinals, with the higher seed remaining as the home team until the Thursday semifinals at the University of New Mexico Pit. The championship games are Saturday.
But for two teams with their respective seedings, it will be a win or else pack your gear task. Usually, the home court favors the higher seed, but this time it might be too close to call.
While the Dermons are 22-5 overall and finished second in district 5 behind Los Lunas, Sandia is on a roll since 6-foot-6 senior forward Sean Johnson came off the injury list. Without him, the Matadors got away to a 4-6 start, with him they have won 13 of their last 16, and he has been scor25ing at a 17.3 average and taking charge in the rebounding with six per game, and you can also include some of his shot blocks.
One plus for Santa Fe High is 6-2 senior wing Paul Lovato has recovered from a recent hand injury and he brings scoring, assists, rebounds, steals and leadership.
“Yes, that’s big for us,” says Demons’ head coach Zach Cole, “with P.J, we play with much more energy and will need that for this game.”
As for Sandia, he credits it for its size, length and ability to come away with a variety of offenses and defenses, and it has Johnson, who is tough inside and can also shoot the 3.
The survivor lines up next with the winner of the No. 1 undefeated Las Cruces against No. 16 Albuquerque High, and if its the Bulldogs in a huge upset on the road, and Santa Fe High wins at home, it would be an all-district quarterfinals Wednesday, but it should be easier for the Wildcats (25-0) to advance then the Demons.
In 4A, 3rd-seeded Espanola Valley (20-7) is home to No. 14 Los Alamos (13-11), as is No. 2 Taos (21-6) versus No. 15 Albuquerque Hope Christian. The top seed is Albuquerque Highland and it gets a visit from 16th-seeded Miyamura, while Taos is a good bet to reach the finals.
In 3A, there’s been the remarkable comeback by 4th-seeded St. Michael’s, which magically gets home court advantage tonight versus 13th-seeded Tohatchi. It started out 0-10, won twice to go 2-12, and then went on a surge that brought 11 wins in a dozen starts, and enter the tournament all even at 13-13, but with head coach Dave Rodriguez on administrative leave prior to the Horsemen’s big rally at home against first place in-district Robertson, stormed back from a 40-22 third quarter deficit to stun the Cardinals in overtime. That began the streak that got them here.
There’s also plenty of district 2 company in the 3A field. Santa Fe Indian School is No. 11, West Las Vegas No. 12 and at No. 9 is Santa Fe Prep. Then there’s 2nd-seeded Robertson home to Dexter and Indian School traveling to No. 6 Raton.
In 2A, Pecos (21-6) is the No. 2 seed and opens at home against No. 15 Penasco. The Panthers are in quest of their sixth state championship. Tularosa (24-2) is the top seed.