It was going to be a perfect scenario for the Pecos boys and girls basketball teams.
They were going to be joined at the hip for all three rounds of the Class 2A State Tournament — home on Monday at Pecos, on the road together to a neutral site Wednesday, then on to The Pit in Albuquerque on Friday for their respective championship games.
Those plans hit a snag Tuesday morning.
The teams had arranged to play Wednesday’s semifinal games at Tucumcari High School — the third-seeded boys playing No. 2 Jal and the girls, seeded No. 1, taking on four-seed Tatum. By the afternoon, though, the link was broken as the boys team will travel to Portales to play Jal after a disagreement on the neutral site, said Pecos athletic director Michael Flores. Meanwhile, the Lady Panthers will head to Santa Rosa to play the Lady Coyotes instead.
Bryan Gonzales, the head coach the Pecos girls, said it was just par for the course since players and coaches are accustomed to last-minute changes amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Things have been so different this year and they change so much,” Gonzales said. “But the girls have done a great job at adapting and being patient and taking care of business. It doesn’t matter who we play — or where.”
The goal remains the same — to meet up in The Pit to play for matching state titles, which they did in 2019. However, their paths altered slightly this year.
The boys team, which has won four straight championships, came into this season with a new coach in Arthur Gonzales and a vastly different set of Panthers — many of whom had little varsity experience. Meanwhile, the Lady Panthers have perhaps the best player in 2A in senior wing Trinity Herrera and a strong supporting cast that grew from last year.
A year ago, the Pecos boys won the 2A title while beating opponents by an average of 32.8 points per game. This group “struggled” to a 4-2 start, including a 62-51 loss to Texico that was the team’s first loss to a 2A school in 39 games, but rebounded by winning seven straight games.
Arthur Gonzales said having a group of hungry, younger players — many of whom he coached on Pecos’ junior varsity team the previous two years — helped accelerate the learning process.
However, he also simplified the offensive and defensive systems for them because they didn’t have a lot of time during practice for the coaches could break things down.
“The kids have really adjusted, and if there is anything, defense never has a bad day,” Arthur Gonzales said. “If there is anything we want to do, it’s play some solid defense and give ourselves more opportunities.”
Defense also has been the calling card for the Pecos girls. They average almost 23 steals per game and have held opponents to and average of 27.4 points per contest, which is a big reason they are 12-0 on the season. However, Bryan Gonzales said the supporting cast around Herrera improved to the point that opponents cannot focus solely on her.
Sophomore Mistidawn Roybal and junior Savannah Ortiz improved significantly on the offensive end, with Roybal becoming the second-leading scorer (11.6 PPG) and Ortiz improving from 5.0 to 9.7 PPG this year. Collectively, Pecos is shooting 39 percent this year, a four percent improvement from 2019-20.
Consequently, Herrera saw her scoring fall from 19.9 points per game to 16.6, while also leading the team in steals (7.3), rebounds (5.8) and assists (3.9).
Bryan Gonzales added the team also understood his system in its second year under his guidance, and the offseason work that focused on individual skills made it easier to transition into more complex schemes once the season began.
“When we came in this year, they were a little more comfortable with it,” Bryan Gonzales said. “They had a year under their belt. They have progressed a little bit more, so we just keep adding more and more to it.”
The Gonzaleses hope they can keep adding to their successes — in this case, it would involve bringing home a pair of blue trophies together.