Eagles' disciplined play nets win vs. younger Jaguars

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Friday night's boys basketball game showed fans what Belen can do this season — and what Valencia might be able to do in a year or two.

In fact, Belen's 75-46 win at VHS also showed what both teams might look like in 2015, as some of the youngest players got playing time in the blowout. Belen's starters helped the team zoom out to a double-digit lead early over the young Jaguar squad.

The Eagles improved to 7-10 overall and 2-2 in District 6-4A with the win, while the Jaguars fell to 5-15 and 1-3 with the loss. Belen hosts Grants at 7 p.m. Thursday, while Valencia plays at Los Lunas.

"After how poorly we played in our (Jan. 29) loss at Miyamura, we worked on man-to-man defense a lot in practice," said Belen coach Patrick Mondragon. "We had good practices, and against Valencia, all five guys on the court were contributing, all the time. We feel we're very talented, but we need to bring this kind of energy every night."

Belen either dumped the ball into post Zach Martin or isolated one-on-one matchups to drive to the basket, building a 17-6 lead just a few minutes into the game.

Defensively, the Eagles had one of their better games of the season. Spurred on by a relatively large crowd, Belen nearly kept Valencia from dribble-driving at all, and made the Jaguars' bigger players take awkward shots, when VHS managed to get the ball into the post.

Nick Kurtz aggressively attacked the basket for Belen, putting up a game-high 21 points. Martin added 19, and other Eagles who didn't score much still made an impact.

At one point in the fourth quarter, BHS led by as many as 33 points. Mondragon used all of his available reserves, and the Eagles were still effective.

One combination used starting point guard Ray Montoya and four of the least-utilized varsity players, and the Eagles were still able to score.

"We're looking forward to seeing our young guys develop," said Mondragon.

Valencia's two big men, Garrett Gibson and Josue Padilla, each picked up three fouls before halftime. VHS point guard Quentin Wanstall looked to be making progress in recovering from a sprained ankle, leading the Jags with 15 points.

Josh Baca had 12 points for Valencia, but other Jaguars struggled. VHS junior reserve Jason McClung, in limited fourth-quarter action, scored three points, outscoring two Jaguar seniors who got significantly more minutes.

"In the late third and early fourth quarter, we showed glimpses of what we can do," said Valencia's first-year coach, Ezau Rios. "But to Belen's credit, they came out with an intensity and physicality that we didn't match, and it kind of snowballed."

Belen hosts a Grants team the Eagles beat 80-44 at a Roswell tournament in December, but Mondragon said BHS "cannot have a letdown."

The Jaguars face a Los Lunas team that is 4-0 in district, and has competed with some of Class 4A's toughest teams.

"Gallup is the team in our district that has the biggest gap between their good nights and bad nights," said Rios. "Los Lunas is the most consistent team in the district, and they're very well-coached. We'll see how we show up."

Mondragon thinks the Jaguars have some positive things going. The Eagles host VHS in the second half of district play on Feb. 21.

"Valencia will be fine," said Mondragon. "They're still very young. It's not coach Rios's fault. And they've already beaten some teams that were maybe a little more talented than they are, just by playing hard."


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