Albuquerque Journal

A primer on state tournament­s as they enter ‘Act II’

- JAMES YODICE

The 160 have been cut in half. And that means twice the fun. The curtain has fallen on Act I of the high school state basketball tournament. The more formidable and meaningful second act lays ahead, starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday, as the 80 remaining boys and girls teams chase three more victories. One out of eight will succeed. A primer for Week 2: First and foremost, we are back, for the first time since 2019, with a full and familiar schedule and format. A format we’ve all come to love. The quarterfin­als in the 10 brackets will be played in the metro area on Tuesday and Wednesday; last year, the quarters were played at home sites before shifting to the metro area for the semifinals and championsh­ip games.

In 2021, it was the shortened pandemic season with limited crowds, a season that ended in May. With athletes in masks. In 2020, the final three days of the state tournament were played without fans as the pandemic descended quickly and left the Pit empty for all the championsh­ip games.

At the Pit this year, we have a familiar slate, with 38 games over five days. (The Rio Rancho Events Center is hosting 24 games Tuesday thru Thursday; Bernalillo High has eight games on Wednesday only.)

On the court, the most prominent story line — one that has been percolatin­g for months — revolves around the Brown brothers, Greg and Danny, who coach the top two seeds in the Class 5A boys bracket, Volcano Vista and Sandia. If there are no upsets between now and Saturday, the brothers will meet in the state final at 8 p.m. Saturday.

Their father, Mike, was a legend at Albuquerqu­e Academy, where he coached both his sons and won a boatload of blue trophies with the Chargers. He died in 2021.

Greg already has multiple rings, with Manzano and Volcano Vista, including a state title with the Hawks last season.

Danny Brown reached the state final once while he coached Highland, losing to La Cueva in 2009. Is this his week? His time to complete the family trifecta?

Sandia and Volcano Vista have been 5A’s two best teams, of this there cannot be dissent, nor should there be. But there remain land mines for

both to navigate first.

A West Mesa state championsh­ip would be every bit as emotional as a Brown v. Brown scenario.

Mustangs coach Shonn Schroer lost his dad, Phil, last August, and a West Mesa triumph on Saturday night would truly be a heart-tugging experience. We shall see. (Phil Schroer was a tremendous guy, and boy, would he have loved watching his son’s fun team this season.) West Mesa is a potent, dangerous group, seeded No. 4.

Atrisco Heritage is the most complex story left on the 5A board.

One of their players, Marquise Renfro, was stabbed in a fight at Main Event last Sunday. (The video, which I’ve seen, is disturbing, to say the least.) He was hospitaliz­ed for several days. Antoine Morris, the father of another Jaguar player, Latavious Morris, was arrested on Thursday by the Albuquerqu­e Police Department in connection with that incident and booked into the Metro Detention Center on a felony charge of aggravated battery.

Latavious, who usually wears No. 24, was wearing Renfro’s No. 12 jersey as a tribute on Saturday night when the Jaguars beat Rio Rancho in the first round of the playoffs. And he told me that he would continue wearing it at the Pit. “For the rest of the year,” he said. That begins Wednesday night in the quarterfin­als against Volcano Vista.

Atrisco, Volcano and Cleveland hail from District 1, which has produced six of the last seven state champions, a remarkable stretch of dominance from a single league. The Storm, seeded No. 7, could be an interestin­g team to follow this week. It meets Sandia on Wednesday, only this time with outstandin­g junior guard Daniel Steverson in the lineup. Steverson missed Cleveland’s meeting against the Matadors in the semifinals of January’s metro tournament, a 20-point Sandia victory. And remember, Cleveland has won a bunch of games at the Pit over the last 6-8 years.

The 4A tournament is filled with elite Albuquerqu­e contenders. Highland, the 2 seed, is the defending state champion and last March won state for the first time in 50 years. Academy, the 1 seed, hasn’t won it all in 29 years but this roster is loaded. Is there a team out there capable of preventing these two from colliding on Saturday? St. Pius, perhaps?

Magdalena, the two-time defending 1A state boys champ, is 29-0, the only undefeated team remaining in New Mexico. They outscore opponents by an average of 36 points a game, a ridiculous­ly one-sided margin. Are they vulnerable? Well, the Steers won 28 of their games by double figures. The exception was a 43-39 victory over Fort Sumner/House, and that co-op is the No. 2 seed. Only two teams solved FS/H — one was Magdalena. The other was Los Lunas, 5A’s No. 3 seed, and that was only by eight points.

In 2A, Menaul chases another state title, but the Panthers are likely going to have to go through No. 1 Pecos in the semifinals to get there. Doable, but difficult.

Could Volcano Vista’s girls and Hobbs meet for a fourth straight season in the state final? They certainly could, since the Eagles are seeded 1 and the Hawks 3.

Volcano Vista coach Lisa Villareal has done a tremendous job this season after several crucial pieces, including two Division I signees, graduated 10 months ago. Hobbs is a young but potent team that could stand in the way of a potential threepeat.

In general, sportswrit­ers root for good stories. In New Mexico, during the state basketball tournament, we root for huge crowds, and under the most intense spotlight. A Kirtland Central-Gallup girls final in 4A on Friday night would bring the Pit to a fever pitch, and those are the top two seeds. Kirtland has won 20 state championsh­ips, and no school has more in girls basketball. Brio Rode, once a Rio Rancho High superstar, returns to the Pit as the St. Pius coach, where her thirdseede­d Sartans hope to elbow their way into that Friday night final.

Navajo Prep from Farmington is one of those under-the-radar stories, since both the boys and girls have 2 seeds this week. Could they produce a sweep?

I haven’t forgotten about the long shots. Week 2 will have plenty of them, if you’re inclined to root for the underdog. There are nine double-digit seeds still alive (six boys, three girls), with No. 13 Clovis Christian in the Class 1A boys bracket the longest shot remaining. A state tournament experience is always enhanced when a doubledigi­t seed (or two) can fashion an unexpected­ly deep run. From the metro area, there are three left — La Cueva’s boys, an 11 in 5A, Valley’s boys, a 12 in 4A, and the Valencia girls, seeded 10th in 4A.

The higher seeds were 36-4 in the girls’ first round, 32-8 in the boys’ first round.

Will we have any first-time state champions this year? Those also help make a state tournament extra special.

However it plays out, we’re in store for an exciting and sleepdepri­ved week. Strap in.

 ?? ??
 ?? ROBERTO E. ROSALES/ JOURNAL ?? Sandia’s Sydney Benally (24) leaps for a layup in the fourth quarter of a 60-46 Matadors win against Albuquerqu­e High. Sandia is set to meet up with topseeded Hobbs in a 5A quarterfin­al on Tuesday night at the Pit, potentiall­y getting in the way of a fourth-straight Hobbs-Volcano Vista state final.
ROBERTO E. ROSALES/ JOURNAL Sandia’s Sydney Benally (24) leaps for a layup in the fourth quarter of a 60-46 Matadors win against Albuquerqu­e High. Sandia is set to meet up with topseeded Hobbs in a 5A quarterfin­al on Tuesday night at the Pit, potentiall­y getting in the way of a fourth-straight Hobbs-Volcano Vista state final.
 ?? MIKE SANDOVAL/JOURNAL ?? Sandia coach Danny Brown watches as Volcano Vista’s Devon Ramos puts up a shot. With his father and brother already state championsh­ip coaches, Danny could complete a rare ‘family trifecta’ this year.
MIKE SANDOVAL/JOURNAL Sandia coach Danny Brown watches as Volcano Vista’s Devon Ramos puts up a shot. With his father and brother already state championsh­ip coaches, Danny could complete a rare ‘family trifecta’ this year.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States