Jaguar boys overcome rough spots in come-from-behind win

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The first-year boys basketball team from Las Cruces, Centennial, took the game over in the third quarter, but could not withstand the furious Valencia rally late in Saturday’s game. The host Jaguars beat the Hawks in a thrilling game, in the final minute, 46-43.

Valencia (4-11) takes on the alma mater of its coach, Ezau Rios, Santa Fe High, this Saturday. Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m.

Mike Stearns-News-Bulletin photo: Hacked twice is Valencia post player Josh Baca, while going to the hoop in Saturday’s 46-43 win over Centennial. Valencia hosts Santa Fe High at 7 p.m. Saturday in its final pre-district game.

“The kids just came through,” said a very happy Rios after the win over Centennial. “They finished the shots, they made free throws, and they did what they needed to against the press.”

Centennial scored the first 10 points of the second half, aided by seven turnovers in the first seven possessions, to retake the lead, 29-27.

The miscues continued through the third as Valencia only managed four points and turned the ball over 14 times in the quarter, with a 27-19 VHS halftime lead becoming a 37-31 deficit by the end of the period.

But by the time Jaguar sophomore Quentin Wanstall drove the baseline and put up a five-footer off the glass with 2:49 left, in the fourth quarter, the Jags had closed to within 39-38.

The teams traded free throws to make it 41-40 with 1:39 left. Gabe Urtiaga hit the charity tosses for Valencia to pull them within one again.

That is when Malachi Jolley took the game into his own hands, literally. The quick point guard stole the ball from Centennial’s Omar Baez under the Hawks’ basket.

He raced in a straight line toward the Valencia goal.

“I decided to go up strong, and I decided that I was going hard to the basket, no matter what,” said Jolley.

The 5-foot, 5-inch junior laid the ball gently off the glass, fouled by one of the two Hawks chasing him. Jolley calmly hit the free throw to give the Jags the lead for the first time since the opening minutes of the third quarter, 43-41.

“It felt good,” said Jolley. “We had been working and we finally pulled out of it. In other games, whenever we got down, we had a lot of turnovers. Tonight, we calmed down. Everyone just did what they needed to do.”

With Valencia ahead 44-43, Urtiaga got the pass and dribbled through two Centennial defenders to get the ball across half court. He fell painfully on his left knee, got up and limped to the foul line, and buried two shots with six seconds left to put Valencia up, 46-43. The Hawks’ desperate, last-second 3-pointer was off the mark.

Rios noted that it was a growing experience for his young team.

“I was really proud because I left them alone,” said Rios. “I knew they had it in them to do it and they did it because they could.”

Visibly shaken from the hard foul, Urtiaga came through at the line in the final seconds.

“I just tried to keep my composure,” said the senior guard. “I had been missing some, so I just concentrated on putting them in.”

The Jags only had Wanstall in double-figures with 10 points. Garrett Gibson and Josh Baca had nine, Dominic Zamora added eight, Urtiaga finished with seven and Jolley had three.

Baez led Centennial with 18 points and Cesar Molina had 15.

To challenge Santa Fe High this Saturday, Valencia will have to show the composure they found in the fourth quarter to pull out the win over Centennial — and avoid repeating some negatives shown in Saturday’s win.

“They (Santa Fe) beat Belen, and played Moriarty very tough,” said Rios, “and that is the school where I learned to play basketball. So it is a really important game for me.”


-- Email the author at mstearns@news-bulletin.com.