With a maximum of 12 games on the regular season schedule and no district tournaments to bolster a team’s résumé, the cold hard truth about the abbreviated 2021 prep basketball season is that every game on the calendar is basically a playoff.
In that respect, Thursday night’s much-anticipated renewal of the Capital-Santa Fe High boys rivalry carried the weight and feel of a postseason game.
Played before a socially distanced “sellout” crowd of 350 fans at Capital’s Edward A. Ortiz Memorial Gymnasium, it was Santa Fe High who took Round 1. The Demons led for all but 10 seconds of Thursday’s game, using a suffocating defense to force 18 Capital turnovers en route to a 53-50 victory.
Now 4-1 overall and 3-0 in District 5-5A, Santa Fe High has seized the inside track to a playoff spot. The Demons and Los Lunas are the only unbeaten teams remaining in the district, and the two are on a collision course for a pair of games later this month.
As for Thursday’s game, it was reliable play of guards Cody Garcia and Cruz Martinez, who shouldered the brunt of the load, but it was senior forward Jaiden Block who did all the intangibles to get the final result. He had eight points and several key rebounds and assists, helping the Demons turn a 14-12 lead at the end of the first quarter into a 14-point cushion in the second half.
Much of the credit goes to Santa Fe’s defense. Capital went more than five minutes without scoring between the end of the first quarter and midway through part of the second. Block’s contested layup late in the opening quarter snapped a 12-all tie and sparked a 10-0 run that finally ended with 3:12 left in the half on an Angel Parra layup for the Jaguars.
Capital scored six of the final eight points in the half, cutting the Demons’ lead to 24-18 at the break. That’s when Santa Fe’s defense turned up the heat again, holding the Jaguars without a field goal for nearly five minutes to open the third quarter. Block’s old-fashioned three-point play opened a 34-21 lead that grew to 42-28 at the end of the period.
The quarter ended with Garcia draining a 3-pointer just before the buzzer as he fell flat on his back out of bounds.
Capital’s rally began when Izayah Serrano completed a rare four-point play with a baseline 3-pointer and ensuing free throw. That cut Santa Fe’s lead to 44-35 with six minutes left. A 3-pointer by Parra with 3:17 to got the Jaguars within 48-44.
That’s where the ball-handling skills of Martinez and Garcia took over. The pair helped the Demons burn precious time off the clock in the waning moments before Elefio Benavidez and Garcia combined to go 5-for-6 from the free throw line in the final minute to put the game away.
Serrano hit a pair of 3-pointers for the Jaguars in the final 18 seconds, the second of which beat the final buzzer to get Capital closer than it had been since the start of the second quarter.
Capital (2-2 overall, 2-2 in 5-5A) has dropped two straight heading into games next week against Manzano and Rio Grande.
Monte del Sol 65, Evangel Christian 56
What happened: Facing what Dragons coach Ralph Casaus called one of the state's most talented small-school backcourts, Monte del Sol used a dominant third quarter to get a road win in Albuquerque. Trailing 29-28 at the half, the Dragons outscored Evangel 18-6 in the third period, thanks to the three-headed monster that is Monte del Sol's Keith Montoya, Brayan Roybal and Kevin Enriquez.
Standouts: Montoya poured in a game-high 27 points for the Dragons (2-0), while Roybal had 17 and Enriquez finished with a dozen. All told, Monte del Sol was never seriously threatened after taking control early in the third quarter. "Considering the guards they have, I love that," Casaus said. "Maybe aside from my guys, Evangel Christian has the best guards in the state [in Class 2A]."
What’s next: Monte del Sol faces Tierra Encantada on Saturday afternoon at Christian Life in Santa Fe.
St. Michael's 42, Sandia Prep 24
What happened: No rest for the weary. Just hours after the girls soccer team won the state title on Thursday afternoon in Albuquerque, five members of that squad suited up and contributed heavy minutes to the Lady Horsemen's season-opening win on the hardwood. Four soccer players were in the starting lineup, and each had just arrived on campus for Thursday's 6 p.m. tipoff at Perez-Shelley Memorial Gymnasium.
Standouts: Rachael Morgan (who scored two goals in the soccer title match) had 17 points while Claire Patten (a starting defender) had nine points and six rebounds. Milena Keene had four rebounds after literally saving the day as the soccer team's starting goalkeeper.
What’s next: St. Michael's (1-0) hosts West Las Vegas at 6 p.m. Monday.