West Mesa girls set for first final, Atrisco boys aim to defend crown
West Mesa?s Esperanza Varoz, center, shoots during Thursday?s semifinal win. West Mesa faces Hobbs today for the 5A state title.
Between them, head coaches Roy Sanchez, Greg Brown and Adrian Ortega have six state championships and an abundance of basketball acumen.
They share in common something else as the curtain comes down tonight on the 2018-19 season ? the use of one word to describe the Santa Fe Demons.
Sanchez used it after Santa Fe beat his flustered Eldorado Eagles in the quarterfinals.
Brown used it after Santa Fe eliminated his overwhelmed Volcano Vista Hawks in the semifinals.
And Ortega ? whose sixth-seeded Atrisco Heritage Academy Jaguars face the fifth-seeded Demons in the Class 5A state final at 8 p.m. today at Dreamstyle Arena ? used that word, too, late Thursday night.
“They suffocate you,” Ortega said.
Atrisco Heritage (21-7) is trying to become the first boys team in the largest class to successfully defend a championship since La Cueva in 2009-2010. This is the Jags’ third state final in the last six seasons.
“I think in many ways, it’s like looking in a mirror,” said Santa Fe coach Zack Cole, talking about Atrisco Heritage. “They have speed, they have quickness, and they fly around on defense.”
Santa Fe (24-7) hasn’t played for, or won, a state title since 1978. Cole played at Espanola Valley for the last coach to lead Santa Fe to a championship, Lenny Roybal.
It should be noted that the Demons and their tenacious lineup, which forced Eldorado and Volcano Vista into a combined 42 turnovers, are, by seed, the favorite tonight.
What’s more, vocal Demons fans are expected to motor down and fill a majority of the lower bowl inside the Pit. Hoisting a blue trophy tonight would for Santa Fe be a completed quest for the holy grail of high school championships.
“The town is gonna shut down,” Santa Fe senior guard Christian Kavanaugh said.
Santa Fe surely will direct its traps and double teams at every Jaguar, but none more fiercely than at junior point guard Joziah Ramos, who had 28 points in a 62-59 overtime semifinal win Thursday over Cleveland. Ramos is as crafty handling the ball as any 5A guard.
“He’s such a unique scorer,” Cole said. “He can score at the rim, mid-range, and way beyond the 3-point line. ? Every time he tries to create space, we have to be there to contest him.”
Ramos said he was impressed by what he’s seen this week of the Demons.
“They’re real fast, real quick,” he said. “We have to stay disciplined.”
The Demons are exceptionally deep at the guard position; seven Santa Fe players hit a 3-pointer on Thursday against Volcano Vista. Brown later remarked about the effectiveness of the Demons’ spacing on offense.
Atrisco Heritage last season beat Santa Fe by three points in a first-round playoff game.
“We’re gonna have to attack the basket,” Ortega said. “It’s gonna be a war. Their kids are so much like our kids.”
The Class 5A final at 2 p.m. today pits No. 1 Hobbs (29-2) against No. 3 West Mesa (27-3). The Mustangs are a first-time finalist, while the Eagles were last year’s Class 6A state champion.
“Hobbs is so athletic,” West Mesa coach Manny Otero said. “They’re well coached, they’re great under pressure and they have some great young guards.”
The two Smiths, Ayanna, a forward/post, and Amiah, a guard, both played key roles in the Eagles’ 2018 championship run. Meanwhile, the smaller Mustangs hope their renowned 3-point shooting and team chemistry can carry them this final step.
The Mustangs won at Hobbs in overtime ? and not surprisingly, on a 25-footer ? in mid-December at Ralph Tasker Arena.
“They’re a lot bigger than us,” said West Mesa senior guard Maiah Rivas, who is cousins with Dominic Rivas of the Atrisco Heritage boys team. “But I think we have a bigger heart.”