Home win not easy for Eagles over Jag boys

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On an icy Thursday night, Zach Martin and Colton Lewis heated up for the Eagles ,and Belen just got by a scrappy Valencia team, 44-42, in a District 6-4A boys basketball contest.

Martin, 19 points, and Lewis, 23 points, scored all but two of the Belen points in the win. Ray Montoya had two free throws in the first quarter to account for all of the Belen scoring.

Mike Stearns-News-Bulletin photo: Belen’s Zach Martin, right, tries to swat away a shot from Valencia’s Josh Baca during Thursday night’s thrilling 44-42 Eagle win. Both teams are getting ready for District 6-4A playoff games on Monday night. Opponents will be determined after the regular season ends on Saturday.

Belen (9-14 overall, 4-5 in 6-4A) will have a chance to move into third place in the district at 7 p.m. tonight, if they can beat Grants (9-16, 4-5) on the Pirates’ home floor. The winner is assured of a home game on Monday night when the district playoffs are set to begin.

Valencia (5-20, 1-8) is set to host Los Lunas (28-5, 8-0) tonight. The Tigers have already clinched the district’s regular season title and will be the No. 1 seed in the upcoming tournament.

The Jaguars almost pulled the upset with the game coming down to Josh Baca’s 3-pointer in the deep left corner with 3.8 seconds left. The ball rolled around the rim and fell out, with Montoya getting the rebound to secure the win.

“If the ball rolls a little bit the other way on the rim on that last 3-pointer, then everything is happier,” said Jag coach Ezau Rios.

“We played a very good game. We know that Belen is a very good team. We have not been able to match Belen’s intensity. I felt that for the first time, we were able to do that. We handled their physicality and were not intimidated by it.”

The Jags had eight players score, led by Dominic Zamora with 12 points. Josh Baca had seven, Jordan Baca added six and Quentin Wanstall had five.

It seemed as if every time Valencia closed the gap, Lewis had the answer.

Zamora tied the game at 32-all with six minutes left in the game. Lewis responded with an open three from the right wing to make it 35-32.

“It was not really for me,” said Lewis, humbly. “We just run our offense and it happened to be me this time.”

Zamora connected on two free throws to bring the Jags back within one point, 35-34. Martin hit a shot inside with two Jag defenders on him to stretch it back to three.

A defensive stop and a Lewis lay up made it 41-36.

That is when the Jags started lighting it up from outside. Baca hit a three that brought the Jag faithful to their feet in the right corner. Martin scored inside to give the Eagles a little breathing room, 43-39, on a sharp pass from Lewis.

“It was a good pass and I made a play,” said Martin. “We just need to play our game and worry about us.”

Zamora dribbled quickly down court with 34 seconds left and hit a 3-pointer at the top of the key to make it 43-42.

Lewis made one last free throw before Baca’s trey attempt at the end of the game just missed.

Rios was happy with the progress he has seen in a team that lost their top seven players to graduation last year.

“The place where our best player was at the beginning of the season, he would not be a part of our top nine right now,” said the Jag coach. “I am really proud of the way they played and the way they executed and fought.”

In the other locker room, Eagle coach Pat Mondragon pointed to the message on the board before the game. It said, “Find a way.”

He noted that in every case, they did find a way to keep Valencia from getting the lead.

“I think our kids kept their composure. We kept fighting and battling,” said Mondragon. “I don’t care what was happening; calls, turnovers or whatever was happening, we never gave up.”


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