Another parade in Pecos after its top-seeded boy's basketball team turned back Santa Rosa 60-49 for the 3A state tournament championship
Panthers ran off 29 straight wins after losing their season opener, and posted a 29-1 record for their first state hoops title since 1966, to add to XC and track and field titles
By ARNIE LESHIN
The long draught is over and it's time for the town of Pecos to have yet another parade.
Many on the Pecos High boy's basketball team roster have seen it before, coming off state championships in cross country and track and field, as well as the school's baseball team finishing second at state.
So while the top-seeded Panthers were adding the 3A state basketball championship rung up in Saturday morning's 60-49 win over 3rd seeded Santa Rosa, parade time was arranged for 2 o'clock Sunday afternoon.
Yes, they love to parade for good reasons. Three state 3A titles in less than a year is something to be proud of, for that's something other schools dream of, but it's not something handed out, more like plenty of hoisting the blue trophy.
A loss in the season opener to 4A West Las Vegas was the only time Pecos tasted defeat. From there head coach Ira Harge, Jr's team racked up 29-straight victories and finished the remarkable season at 29-1.
But it wasn't easy, for once again, these Panthers started slow and finished with their usual flurry in turning back the Lions for the third time, the first one by two points and the next two in the style they're accustomed to.
"For sure, Santa Rosa (21-9) came to play," said Harge in the interview room at the WisePies Arena, aka the UNM Pit. "They gave us a battle, but we did what we had to do and its been just a remarkable season. These kids played like family, played unselfish ball, and I'm happy for them and town of Pecos."
With three seniors on the roster, it was once again a team effort as juniors Carlos Cordova and Mario Archuleta hooked up with seniors Cameron Quintana and Issac Cde Baca, and freshmen Xavier Padilla and Anthony Armijo.
Playing in the Pit for the first time after winning the quarterfinals and semifinals at the Rio Rancho Santa Ana Star Casino, Padilla scored 10 points, took down five rebounds and converted free throws under pressure when the contest was still in doubt.
Having turned 15 in February, he played like a veteran in making good on 5-of-6 foul shots when his team led 46-41 early in the fourth quarter. He finished with 8-of-12, but did the damage that the Lions couldn't overcome. In between the charity freebies, he added a 3 to open up a 51-42 lead. That gave him 10 points for the second half after going scoreless through the first half went Pecos went to the break up 32-28.
As for Armijo, all of 16 years old, he added seven points and brought down three boards to give himself and Padilla 17 total points to go with eight rebounds. From the foul line, he was 4-for-4 and tossed in one of Pecos' six 3s.
Were they nervous being on this big stage?
Said the 5-foot-10 forward Padilla: "I just put all that aside, did what I had to do, and it was just a dream come true, so I can't say I was nervous."
Same with Armijo, the 5-7 guard.
"I just enjoyed the moment, the chance to walk down that ramp," he said.
Padilla had scored 11 in the semis' triumph over Dulce, and Cordova also tossed in 11.
The draught was 51 years old because the last time the Panthers won state was way back in 1966. They had been in four other finals since than, but this one was certainly in the winner's circle.
Cordova, a member of the cross country and track and field team along with Archuleta, Quintana, 5-7 junior Josh DeHerrera and 5-10 junior reserve Michael Montano, had the team high of 16 points. He was good on 6-of-13 free throws that included 4-of-6 3s. He was clutch when it mattered most.
The team's leading scorer, Archuleta. added 11 points and was 4-for-5 from the foul line. He wasn't sharp from the 3 (1-of-7), but did his share moving the ball around on offense and playing strong defense that helped force Santa Rosa into 20 turnovers.
Quintana came away with 10 points, and scrubbed the boards for a team-high seven rebounds versus the taller Lions The teams were equal on the boards with 36 each. DeHerrera handed out three assists
"We pride ourselves on defense," said Harge as his entire team sat in the interview room with the blue trophy on display. "I've had this group since 8th grade, and it's been a great experience to have them accomplish this."
Pecos, like Santa Rosa, had to adjust to the atmosphere at the state's legendary site. But even though it trailed 11-9 after one quarter, it finished with a 17-11 advantage in the final eight minutes and was able to convert 18-of-25 overall foul shots. It shot 17-for-50 from the field, 34 percent, but the shots went in as the Panthers went from a 55-49 lead to score the game's last five points.
"I wasn't surprised we started slow," said Harge, "because it's nothing new. We might have had the early jitters, but we just settle down and keep on fighting."
There were eight lead changes and five ties, the last at 32-all to start the second half. The Lions' last lead was at 24-23, but when Pecos ran off six points to close out the half, it remained in front until the final buzzer when the Panthers and their coaching staff stormed the court to celebrate.
Santa Rosa made good on 19-of-44 attempts from the floor, with 6-foot senior guard Christian Chavez scoring 12, one more then 6-2 sophomore post Joaquin Romo.
It's tough to beat a team three times, but it's not as difficult when you have a team that was on a mission to end the draught.
And so it did, and so it brings on yet another parade for the proud community. It was a season to remember, and with the returning players, could well be a back-to-back celebration (and other parade).