Top seeded Pecos takes its 28-game win streak against 3rd seeded Santa Rosa when the two meet in Saturday morning's state 3A basketball tournament for the championship
Early morning tip-off scheduled for 10 at the WisePies Arena, aka the UNM Pit
By ARNIE LESHIN
For two schools not even in the same 3A district, Pecos and Santa Rosa have already met twice this season, and the third time is the biggest game of all for them.
That came about when the top-seeded Panthers (28-1) won their 28th in a row by turning back 4th seeded Dulce, 71-51, while the 3rd seeded Lions (21-8) made their way past 2nd seeded district foe Texico, 78-73, in Thursday's state semifinals played at the Rio Rancho Santa Ana Star Casino.
Now the match-up Saturday morning, scheduled tip-off at 10 o'clock, will be played at the WisePies Arena, aka the UNM Pit.
In the two previous meetings, Pecos won a 49-48 squeaker, its closest test of the campaign, in the Tri-Cities tournament final back on Dec. 30 that welcomed in the New Year. But on Thanksgiving Day, the Panthers rolled 74-52 at home.
Pecos won handily in District 3 and Santa Rosa tied with Texico for the top spot in District 5, splitting four games and then winning the deciding one.
The Lions have won four state championships, the Panthers once, way back in 1967, a 50-year draught. They last appeared in the state finals in 2005, losing 73-58, to Mora. Santa Rosa's last state title came in 1990, in 2A, its first in Class B when it won back-to-back in 1956-57. In five years under head coach Joseph Esquibal, it has been nothing by winning seasons.
Pecos is on a mission, with only the Lions in the way. Against Dulce, 6-foot junior Mario Archuleta led the way 20 points and 14 rebounds. It now has the state's longest winning streak after 2A top-seed Magdelena lost Thursday for the first time in 29 starts.
"To play in the Pit," Archuleta said, "for the state championship is great for our team and especially for the town of Pecos. It's a dream come true. The emotions going through my head are just crazy."
The Lions roared back from a 21-1 deficit early in the second quarter to stun Texico in overtime. That marathon contest had the Pecos and Hawks tipping off about an hour late.
For the second straight game, the Panthers started slow and then worked their way to a convincing victory. Head coach Ira Harge, Jr. wasn't surprised.
"This has kind of been our thing at state," he said. "We start off slow, gain momentum, and than it doesn't stop."
Once they got into gear, Pecos 14 points in less than four minutes before the end of the opening quarter, and led by 19 at the half.
Dulce (21-6) responded by cutting the gap to 39-29 three minutes into the second half, but back came the Panthers to score seven unanswered points and up the margin to 17 points.
Again showing their balanced offense, 5-7 junior guard Josh DeHerrera put in 13 points, 5-10 freshman Xavier Padilla came off the bench to add 11, and 6-foot junior Carlos Cordova tossed in 11, and he and 6-foot junior Cameron Quintana combined for 13 rebounds.
Their aggressive, quick defense held the Hawks to 2-for-16 shooting from the 3, and forced 15 turnovers.
All aboard for the last stop matching up two familiar opponents, both playing to hoist the blue trophy. Two highways connect Pecos with Santa Rosa on Route 66, a short ride that now brings them both to the state final in Albuquerque.