Eagle boys still struggling to find consistency
When the Belen High boys basketball team takes the court for their opening game in District 6-4A play, they will have been tested.
The Eagles got a win at home over Class 5A West Mesa, 55-49, on Tuesday before falling 61-59 on the road to Bernalillo, a top-five Class 4A team
It was the second hopeful, although losing effort, against a top 4A club this season. Much like the Bernalillo game, Belen had its chances against Academy, on a top-ranked foe’s court, to pull the upset.
Belen (5-8) is idle until its Thursday, Jan. 24, District 6-4A opener, when the Eagles host county rival Los Lunas.
“You want to do well and make the playoffs,” said coach Pat Mondragon. “You want to have your seniors end the year in the Pit. We have played eight of nine on the road. We just have to keep focused and do well in district.”
Bernalillo 61, Belen 59
After a failed Bernalillo possession, the Eagles had a chance to tie the game. Ray Montoya missed the shot over a double-team and the rebounded shot came after the buzzer.
The halftime lead of 37-30 that Belen held was down to one point going into the final quarter.
Brandon Saiz scored 22 points and led the furious Bernalillo (10-6) charge that featured the Spartans take the lead and go up by seven points, 61-54, late in the game.
Dontae Vigil stole the ball with 1:10 left and hit a layup. Colton Lewis nailed a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 61-59.
“We got up on them early on,” said Mondragon. “The second half they got to the rim a little more than we wanted.”
Senior Zach Martin led the scoring for Belen with 19 points. Lewis had 11 and Vigil and Nick Kurtz scored eight each.
“We, just now, got most of our kids going,” said Mondragon. “We have only been together since the Roswell tournament.”
Mondragon noted that both teams missed crucial one-and-one opportunities late in the game. Both clubs shot poorly from the line, with Belen going 5-for-12 and Bernalillo hitting 6-of-13.
Despite the loss, Mondragon feels that the Eagles will respond, come district time.
“We really feel like we are playing our best basketball right now,” said the Belen coach.
Belen 55, West Mesa 49
The Class 4A Eagles made 11 of 12 fourth-quarter free throws on Tuesday to beat the visiting 5A Mustangs (3-9).
Belen struggled early, trailing 14-5 at one point, but got better at its half-court offensive flow, and a 15-0 run put them ahead briefly in the second quarter. The Eagles also had a 10-2 run in the third quarter, aided by some strong interior defense, to take the lead for good.
Belen went up 44-36, equaling their biggest lead of the game, with 3:13 to play. West Mesa then forced the Eagles to win it at the free throw line, which they did, hitting nine of their 10 foul shots within the game’s final three minutes.
Lewis was the most aggressive Eagle on the offensive end, getting rebounds and finishing with a team-high 17 points. Martin added 15, and he was a tough matchup for the Mustangs at both ends of the floor.
Vigil, a junior, only had eight points, but he hit five of his final six free throws in the last minutes of the contest. The Eagles were 15-of-21 overall at the foul line.
West Mesa’s Eric Gutierrez had 19 points, while Marc Moseley added 15. The Mustangs were 15-of-19 from the charity stripe, and made all eight of their fourth-quarter free throws to stay in the game.
—Jason W. Brooks