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Northern New Mexico graduates get final shot at high school glory days

June 9, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE – Ten games, one tennis match and two home run derbies, all in one day.

The New Mexico High School Coaches Association’s “All-Star Extravaganza” — a three-day event designed to honor the state’s top and now former prep athletes across a variety of sports — definitely put the “extravaganza” into Friday’s schedule. Three football and girls basketball and softball games dotted the itinerary, plus a baseball game and a tennis match that pitted the best from the North against the best from the South all across Albuquerque.

Was it possible for one reporter to catch at least a glimpse of every single event — all the ones that matter to The New Mexican readership — while driving from one point to another and back in a 10-hour span? Well, being that this had never been done by the coaches association, it had to be put to the test. This is an account of that effort, and the stories unearthed in the process.

And yes, this should be done only by a trained professional.

Too bad a reporter went instead.

10:24 a.m., 6-man/8-man/2A football

The only evidence that Escalante’s Cody Russom had a torn ACL was the scar on his right knee, but the pants of his North uniform hid it.

It was in Escalante’s final regular-season game in 2017 that Russom tore the ligament that threatened to end his athletic career in his senior year, with basketball and track still to come.

Undeterred, Russom put on a brace and played in the 2A championship game, a 55-7 loss to Fort Sumner/House on Nov. 11. Three days later, he had surgery on the ligament. By mid-February, Russom was on the basketball court.

Through the ordeal, though, he learned a valuable quality that the typical teenager struggles with.

“Patience, lots of patience,” Russom said. “You can’t push it. You can’t go out there when you’re not ready. You just have to know when your body is ready to go.”

Russom said he’s made concessions for his injury; he doesn’t try to make dramatic cuts or jumps. He didn’t have to do that much in the North’s 14-0 win at NUSENDA Community Stadium. He scored the first touchdown on a quarterback sneak from 1 yard out, and he played the first half at safety.

This is the one and only break of the day, until the afternoon crash-course of events.

2:50 p.m., All-Star tennis/Class 1A-4A home run derby/Class 1A-4A softball

The University of New Mexico’s South Campus was the home of the the tennis, softball and baseball events, which made checking off a lot events on the list easier.

The North softball team gave up four runs in the fourth inning as the South went on to an 8-1 win, but the main event was the tennis match between Las Vegas Robertson’s Brandelyn Fuglenzi and Albuquerque Eldorado’s Ivana Corley. She is the 6A champion while Fulgenzi is the 1A-4A title holder.

Corley’s powerful serve, heavy ground strokes and accuracy kept Fulgenzi perplexed for most of the match, which the former Lady Eagles player won 6-2, 6-4. Fulgenzi expected it to be a challenging match, but could not break Corley’s serve.

“It was a big difference [compared to other opponents],” Fulgenzi said. “I came into this knowing it wouldn’t be easy. She’s a really good player.”

So, too, is Fulgenzi — good enough to get a Division I scholarship to University of Incarnate Word at San Antonio, Texas. But this was a good lesson to learn as Fulgenzi prepares her for her collegiate career.

“I know where I need to be now, and what I need to work on, whether it’s mentally or physically,” Fulgenzi said.

The surprise of the day was that the 1A-4a home run derby, scheduled for 4 p.m., has been moved to 5. But the schedule waits for no one, and it’s off to the next destination.

4:50 p.m., Class 1A/2A and 3A/4A girls basketball

Walking into Albuquerque High’s gym revealed a stunning score late in the first half of the 1A/2A game: South 40, North 12.

Even though the North cuts the deficit to 40-20 at the half, the South dominates in a 78-44 win. Thus ended the high school career of Tenisha Torrez for Escalante. She played the game in honor of her grandmother, who passed away during the Lady Lobos’ run to the 2A championship game last year. Earning a spot on the North squad meant a lot to her, but the pain of her grandmother’s absence remained.

“I told my mom that I made it, but I wish my grandmother was here to see it,” Torrez said as the tears welled in her eyes. “I know deep down, she’s looking down on us with her son, and both of them are smiling at us.”

As Torrez talked about the game and what it meant to play, the 3A/4A girls game began — but the mental clock that goes with the tight schedule ticks louder. It’s back to where the day started.

6:10 p.m., Class 3A/4A football

The last time Antonio Gabaldon played defense was his sophomore year at St. Michael’s. By the time he was a junior, Gabaldon was entrenched as the Horsemen quarterback. Robertson head coach Leroy Gonzalez put him at safety and he performed well.

Still, it was odd to see the signal caller have to decipher the opposing quarterback instead.

“It was fun all weekend,” Gabaldon said. “I knew I was going to get in there when [Cardinals safety Arjay Ortiz] needed a break.”

The pair joined for the pivotal play of the game: a 41-yard touchdown pass with 48 seconds left that gave the North a 20-19 win. Unfortunately, the football game ran long, leaving no chance to get back to Albuquerque High for the 3A/4A girls finish.

It wasn’t much of one — the South won 98-57. Oh, and forget about the softball home run derby.

Still, there was one last place to go.

8:57 p.m., Class 3A/4A softball

Pulling into the parking lot back at UNM reveals that the baseball game just ended, with the South winning 4-3. The softball game, however, is in the fourth inning, and the pitcher from McCurdy is in the pitching circle.

Wait, that’s Santa Fe Indian School’s Ariana Marcotte! In a small-school tradition, players swapped jerseys with each other as a means to represent not just their schools, but the North in general.

“The big schools, most of those kids are from Albuquerque, so they are presenting their schools,” said McCurdy head coach Christian Lopez, who led the North. “Here, we represent communities, not just a school. So it’s special to switch jerseys.”

The downside is that the South wins again, 9-8, in eight innings.

As for this experiment? Well, six out of 11 ain’t bad.