WEB EXCLUSIVE: Belen boys hoops close, but fall in state tourney

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ALBUQUERQUE – So close and yet so far away was an apt description for the Belen boys basketball team’s Class 5A state tournament game on Saturday night.

The No. 14-seeded Eagles had stretches of dominant play against No. 3 St. Pius in the Sartans’ gym, but they could never close that final gap in a 56-43 loss in the first round.
“We kind of went a little cold, we kind of forced some shots,” Belen coach Patrick Mondragon said. “I thought the whole difference in the game was they handled a little bit of the adversity, a little bit of the atmosphere better than our kids.”
The game turned fully in St. Pius’ favor in the third quarter despite Belen’s best effort. An 8-0 run that started just before halftime put the Sartans ahead 32-22.
The Eagles (10-16) showed they had some fight left as senior guard Antonio Chavez hit a 3-pointer. After a Sartans miss on the other end, senior guard Colton Lewis put back a missed shot. On the next possession, Lewis hit a 3-pointer of his own to suddenly bring Belen within 32-30 with 3:35 left to go in the quarter.
Then the Eagles went cold from the floor while the Sartans (20-6) started to heat up. It was a sequence where everything that could go wrong did for Belen. They piled up five fouls but no baskets.
St. Pius, on the other hand, woke up, going on a 10-0 run that was capped by Matthew Villareal’s 3-pointer at the end of the quarter. The Sartans led 42-30 and never looked back.
“They’re a top-class program,” Mondragon said. “You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. They’re used to being here. This is our first year in quite a while. I think some of that played into it.
“But we’re proud of our kids. They never quit. At least we can hang our hats on that.”
The Eagles had rallied before in the second quarter. Trailing 17-9 after the first eight minutes, they would outscore the Sartans 13-7 to pull within 24-22. Just like later in the game, though, Belen went cold from the floor.
For the game, the Eagles shot just 28.6 percent (16-for-56) from the floor.
Lewis led Belen with 20 points. He, Chavez (three points) and guard Thomas Cordova (four pints) are the Eagles’ three departing seniors.
“We do have a lot of kids back, but with those three seniors we’re losing a lot of leadership,” Mondragon said. “This year helped get us the confidence that we could make it here (to the state tournament).”

No. 3 ST. PIUS 56, No. 14 BELEN 43
Class 4A first round
BELEN (10-16): Colton Lewis 20, Antonio Chavez 3, Thomas Cordova 4, Emilio Ulibarri 4, Lucas Chavez 4, Brandon Ammons 6, Mario Peralta 2. Totals 16-FG 7-14-FT 43
ST. PIUS (20-6): Luke McConnell 6, Nathan Petersen 4, Emilio Arellano 4, Matthew Villareal 13, James Portillos 12, Ray Reyes 13, Zane Van Winkle 2, Kory Landers 2. Totals 14-FG 25-32-FT 56
Belen 9 13 8 13 — 43
St. Pius 17 9 16 14 — 56
3-Point FG: B 4 (Lewis 3, Chavez); SP 3 (Villareal 2, Portillos). Team Fouls: B 24; SP 15. Fouled Out: B, Cordova.

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