Eagle boys continue hot streak, down Jags in district playoff opener

........................................................................................................................................................................................

When the regular season ended on Saturday night, Los Lunas completed a historic District 6-4A campaign, and Belen capped off a three-game winning streak to pull into third place in the district race with a surprising 70-68 win over Grants on the Pirates’ home court.

Mike Stearns-News-Bulletin photo: Tiger Senior wrestler Ricardo Alvarado struggles to get out of a leg lock from Piedra Vista’s Jacob Palmgren at the Class 4A state wrestling championships at the Santa Ana Star Center on Saturday. Alvarado, along with three other Los Lunas wrestlers, finished second in his weight class to help the Tigers finish second to Peidra Vista.

The Eagles did not have a lot of time to get ready for the district playoffs that began Monday. County foe Valencia would invade the Eagles’ nest as the No. 5 seed.

Three-seed Belen was equal to the task, downing the Jags 60-53 in a game that was not decided until the final 30 seconds. Miyamura beat Grants, 48-46, in the other district playoff game Monday night.

Top-seeded Los Lunas (20-5, 10-0 in 6-4A) will host Miyamura (11-13, 3-7), the lowest remaining seed at No. 5, while Belen travels to Gallup to face the hostile Bengal crowd in a matchup of two and three seeds.

The semifinal winners will meet at the home of the highest remaining seed on Friday night with the tip slated for 7 p.m.

The district playoffs all lead to the Class 4A state tournament set to begin on Saturday, March 9.

The selections will be made on Sunday with a webcast beginning at noon on www.proviewnetworks.com. Upon completion of the selection show, the brackets will be posted on the New Mexico Activities Association website, www.nmact.org.

Belen began their quest for a playoff spot with the win over the Jags. At 11-14, the Eagles would probably need a win at Gallup and no upsets in the other district tournaments. The district regular season winner and the tournament winner have automatic bids to the state tournament.

The Eagles led Valencia at the half, 35-27, and kept the lead around 10 points for most of the second half.

But the Jags had one last run in them and they made the Eagle crowd very nervous.

Valencia’s Garrett Gibson hit a 3-pointer to close the gap to 45-42, but Zach Martin buried a trey for the left wing in the last eight seconds of the third quarter to put it back up to 48-42.

The Jags closed to within two points when Gabe Urtiaga hit a trey from the head-of-the-key to make it 51-49.

After a Martin free throw, Dominic Zamora finished a layup with a three-step bound and dish off the glass over Martin. Valencia was within one point, 52-51.

Martin got a layup with 1:04 left to make it 54-51. Gibson hit two free shots with 54 seconds left to make it 54-53.

Martin hit a free throw and Colton Lewis followed with one-of–two charity tosses and the Eagles led 56-53.

Valencia had one last shot, a missed layup by Quentin Wanstall, before Ray Montoya iced the game with four straight makes from the line in the last 16 seconds.

“I tell you, it is exciting. It is exciting for the kids,” said Eagle coach Pat Mondragon. “They haven’t experienced that for a very long time — to play with something on the line.”

Mondragon congratulated two seniors for their clutch play with the game on the line.

“I am so proud of Zach (Martin) and Ray (Montoya) going to the line and hitting those clutch free throws to win the game,” said the excited Belen coach.

Montoya talked about hitting those free throws in the waning seconds of the game.

“My teammates had faith in me,” said Montoya. “They told me to just step up there and make them. I had to do it.”

The Eagles have only one day to get ready for Gallup. The Bengals beat Belen 74-54 at Gallup, but the Eagles won earlier in the season at Belen, 69-68.

“One of our goals is to be district champs. We know that it will go through Los Lunas,” said Mondragon. “But first is Gallup. I don’t think there are very many people that think we have a chance to win that game. But the guys that are in our (locker)room do.”

Los Lunas 64, Valencia 46

For the first time in Los Lunas boys basketball history, the Tigers complete a perfect district slate at 10-0.

Los Lunas took charge early, going up 14-4 at the end of the first quarter. By halftime, The Tiger lead was 33-12 and Los Lunas coasted to a home win over their county rivals.

Ben Romero led the way with 19 points; Chris Sanchez added 17 and Jacob Holland put in 15 for the 18-point win.

The real difference came at the free throw line, where Los Lunas hit 24-of-26 free shots. Valencia was 8-of-17.

The Jags got balanced scoring, but no one cracked double-figures.

Zamora had eight points; while Padilla, Jordan Baca and Gibson all added seven.

Belen 70, Grants 68

A tight contest came down to the free throw line as all 12 of Belen’s fourth-quarter points came from the charity stripe.

Martin hit the two that put the game away in the final 20 seconds. With Belen up 70-67, The Eagles fouled with four seconds left. The Grants player hit the first free shot, missed the second intentionally and the Pirates got the rebound.

Orlando Ware led the Pirates with 22 points, 19 of which came in the second half.

Belen took an early lead and extended it to 40-25 at halftime.

“I think our kids were focused and ready for the game. They knew how important it was. It was one of the best games we have played in a while.”

Martin led the scoring for the Eagles in their crucial road win that evened their district mark at 5-5 and set up the bracket to have them host Valencia. Martin had 21 points, Colton Lewis scored 17 and Montoya added 10.

Los Lunas 48, Miyamura 31

In a make-up game after snow cancelled sporting events in northwest New Mexico on Thursday, the Tigers had a slow start after a long bus ride.

No matter, as Los Lunas turned up the intensity in the second half and rode out of Gallup with a convincing district win.

The Patriots were still in the game at halftime, trailing 14-7. But Los Lunas torched the nets for 22 points in the third quarter and the game was never in doubt after that.

Romero led the effort with 16 points. Quentin Mullins had eight, Dakota Eward and Chad Murphy scored six each, Holland had five and Sanchez scored four.


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