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Roadrunners not done yet

February 14, 2018 GMT

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It could be easy for the New Mexico School for the Deaf to rest on their accomplishments, especially after Tuesday night. Forty years of waiting for the school’s next district title is technically over, but the ever-hungry Roadrunners don’t want to settle for ties.

So while a 71-65 win over Albuquerque Evangel Christian in Larson Gymnasium secured no worse than a share of the District 1-1A title, NMSD isn’t done checking “district title” off of its list. With a win over at Coronado on Wednesday or at home against Walatowa on Friday, the Roadrunners can claim the title for themselves alone.

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But it’s never too early to bask in the moment.

“This feels amazing,” senior Jonathan Garcia said through an interpreter.

The past month has been amazing, as NMSD (17-4 overall, 5-1 in 1-1A) rolled to its 10th straight win behind an inspired team effort and the usual stellar play of 6-foot-9 post Deven Thompson. The junior finished with 36 points, 27 rebounds and four blocks, as the smaller Eagles (10-15, 4-3) could not find a way to slow down the big man.

However, the secret to the Roadrunners’ success lately has been finding that unsung hero who does the little things. Against Evangel Christian, it was Jacob Stevens. The 5-10 forward had six points, two rebounds and a pair of steals.

His first bucket capped a strong first quarter for NMSD, as his layup off a Bruce Brewer Jr. no-look pass gave his team a 22-13 lead. He added another layup midway through the second quarter that gave the Roadrunners their biggest lead of the first half at 28-17. A steal and a layup later in the quarter capped an 8-0 run that answered a 10-0 spurt by the Eagles to give NMSD a 36-27 margin with 1 minute left before halftime.

“It felt nice,” Stevens said through an interpreter. “I’ve noticed my confidence in practice is starting to increase throughout the season. It’s getting better. I used to miss the ball and get thrown off on rebounds and stuff. Now it’s getting better.”

If anything, the Roadrunners’ confidence is through the roof, especially after a most impressive display at the Great Plains School for the Deaf Tournament in Olathe, Kan., over the weekend. NMSD won the tournament for the first time in more than a decade after beating Minnesota School for the Deaf.

NMSD head coach Letty Perez said through an interpreter the players got a chance to cut the nets at the tournament, and it was a moment that galvanized them.

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“Each boy got to cut the net,” Perez said. “When each one of them cut, it inspired them. They were happy after that. Jonathan and Bruce said, ‘This is it. It’s time to focus on districts. GPSD is over with.’ ”

Evangel Christian gave the Roadrunners all the incentive they needed by beating them 59-47 to open the district season on Jan. 16. In fact, they considered it the wake-up call they needed to re-focus and work harder to accomplish their goals.

NMSD withstood the 3-point barrage the Eagles started with, hitting its first three shots from the perimeter to take a 9-4 lead. NMSD responded with an 18-4 run highlighted by eight points from Garcia, which included a pair of 3s, and five more from Thompson. Evangel Christian Andrew Taylor drained a pair of 3s during the 10-point second-quarter spurt, but Thompson turned around and scores six in a row before Steven’s bucket pushed the lead back up to nine.

“I think they came in thinking, ‘Oh, it’s going to be the same as last time,’ ” Garcia said. “But then, they were like, ‘Whoah! This is different.’ ”

Evangel Christian tried to double team Thompson, but the task was almost impossible when he got the ball near the low block. He scored 21 points in the second half, including a stretch in which he had 11 of NMSD’s first 12 points of the fourth quarter to grow the lead to 60-46 on his layup with 3:31 left in the game.

The Roadrunners led by as much as 69-50 with 1:27 left before the Eagles hit five 3s to end the game on a 15-2 run.

It mattered little to NMSD, because it was one game away from doing the unthinkable — bring home an outright district title.

“It’s almost like we’ve been cursed for the 40 years,” Stevens said. “And we’re breaking that curse.”