Sophomore Matt Smith tosses a 3 in final seconds as 2nd seeded Capital High rallies to nip 7th seeded Alamogordo in 5A state basketball tournament quarterfinals Wednesday
Jaguars (24-5) led only once until the final seconds in gaining Thursday's semifinals at the WisePies Arena
By ARNIE LESHIN
It was the way to go. Tied with the final seconds running down and with the ball, Capital High's boys needed to score the best way possible, as in senior guard Jeremy Anaya driving to the basket.
But 6-foot-3 sophomore Matt Smith had other plans. With Anaya being doubled teamed, he tossed up a 24-foot 3-pointer with only two tenths of a second remaining and the 2nd seeded Jaguars were into Thursday's 5A semifinals with the come-from-behind 48-45 win over 7th seeded Alamogordo.
Before Smith's heroics, his second of the game after also throwing in a 3 at the third quarter buzzer, it was Capital chasing. The Tigers, on an 8-game win streak in their first trip to the state tournament in 11 years, led all but once until there were 52 seconds left. Their largest lead was 23-15 late in the second quarter.
Two quarters later, it was 43-42 Alamogordo when Capital's 5-8 junior guard, Tyler Alarid, drove along the baseline for a layup and his team's second lead at 44-43. Next, with 37 seconds on the clock, the Tigers turned it over, one of their 22 in the quarterfinals morning game at the WisePies Arena, aka the UNM Pit.
Quickly, Alarid was fouled and continued the Jags' dismal foul shooting by converting only one of two to up the lead to 45-43.
But Alamogordo, which led 9-8 after one quarter and 22-18 at the half, called on high scorer Dee Smith, and the 6-foot-2 junior scored at 0:8.5 on a short jumper inside the foul line to knot the score.
Time out Capital to map out the strategy. Needing only to score, it was Anaya or even Alarid who were asked to drive to the basket, score or get fouled. But Smith was left alone and he delivered.
With less than a second left and with no time outs, the Tigers' 6-5 sophomore Rakim Stokes stepped out of bounds before throwing in the ball and Capital advanced to 24-5 and will now face the winner of the afternoon game between 3rd seeded Los Lunas (24-5) and 6th seeded Farmington (26-3) back at the WisePies Arena.
Alamogordo, which was appearing in the state tournament for the first time in 11 years, was under first-year head coach Brian Shock, and had superior size, but its season wound up at 23-9. The last time it had lost was back on Jan. 24 in a one-point overtime defeat against Lovington.
Assistant Jaguars' coach Benji Lucero said after the contest: "Yeah, that was it, the plan to get the ball in Jeremy or Tyler's hands and go for the win that way. But Smith was smart to get off the long shot before time expired. He said he knew it was good."
No overtime, just an almost buzzer-beater by the first-year varsity player Smith. Until then, the lone Capital lead came on Alarid's layup to put the score at 8-7. But that was it until those final seconds.
Defensively, Capital played its usual aggressive game, forcing turnovers, although not all of them leading to points. The Jags did not have a good shooting game, especially from the foul line, a season-long problem.
From the charity stripe, they continued to miss, sometimes failing on the first and making the second, but doing this kept the Tigers ahead. Overall, they were good on only 17 of 30 attempts, at one point making only 3 of 13.
But Alamogordo had its own problems, some of them on the strange side. In the first half, it had no trouble getting inside, driving to the basket, especially from its own Smith, who had the game-high 20 points, but when the second half began Coach Shock had his team start out with a slow down offense and it put a kink in what it had accomplished in the first half.
So the Jaguars hung around. They came in with state tournament experience, and had lost in last year's final to district rival Espanola Valley, so they never panicked.
"We knew they were a good athletic team with good size and on a roll," said Lucero, "but I thought our defense and clutch shooting in the second half got us through."
Puzzling was how these Tigers kept their lone point guard, 5-7 senior Wellington Baisley, on the court after he picked up his third foul early in the third quarter. Still in the game, he got his fourth quickly in the final quarter, and then fouled out with 6:58 remaining.
So Stokes took over that role and it wasn't quite the same. He lost his way at times because of the Capital pressure, and now running the offense, the usual scoring threat wasn't much of a factor with only five points.
For the Jaguars, Anaya paved the way with a team-high dozen points. Senior post Isaiah Brooks, junior forward Aaron Garcia and Smith had eight each, and Alarid added seven.
In the first half, Alamogordo dunked four times, attacked the rim and were controlling the backboards, but when it slowed things down after intermission it was Capital's time to respond. And when Baisley remained in the game in foul trouble, that also helped as the Jags were able to apply their stout defense and outscore the Tigers 30-18 over the last two quarters.
The last time Coach Shock faced Capital was in 2006 and his visiting Aztec team was dominated in the state tournament first round contest. Not so this time, but a win is a win and a loss is a loss and again the Jags pulled out a tight one, again under current head coach Benny Gomez who guided them to their only state championship (then 4A) in 2004.
Twice more, Gomez had Capital in the final, but lost to Deming in 2005 and to Albuquerque St. Pius X in 2007. Now it is two wins away from hoisting the blue trophy again.