The Gateway Warrior boys basketball team advanced to the district 4-2A tournament finals by virtue of their come-back 51-41 win over the visiting Hagerman Bobcats. The Warriors trailed by four entering the final quarter but used big games from their two dominant posts – Alonzo Grajeda and Wes Tipton – to outscore the ‘Cats 20-6 as they ran away late.
The Bobcats (12-16) had split with the Warriors during the regular season after falling behind early in both games only to make them competitive. This game was similar as they fell behind early and then used their patient back-screen baseline offense to get numerous looks before fading late.
“It was a really hard fought game,” said coach Andrew Rodriguez of Hagerman. “We were down in the first quarter and fought back and led at half time and at the end of the third. We kind of went cold there in the fourth. We scored six points and they scored 20 so that’s what did it.”
The Warriors got up quickly 6-1 as Joe Waide would hit a couple of jumpers and Jaydon Stephens would get a nice turnaround layup. The Cats would hang around with buckets from four different players, but Waide would nail a three with :54 seconds to go to make it 11-7 after one quarter.
Tipton would follow his second block with a rare three to make it 14-7 early for the Warriors but the game would be close throughout the quarter.
Grajeda would get three buckets in the quarter all following Bobcat baskets to prevent any serious run, but the visitors would get their first lead from senior Osbaldo Najera with :54 seconds to go at 21-20, and then late from Jose Rodriguez to make it 23-22 Bobcats at the half.
The Bobcats would maintain their lead throughout the third quarter as they played a patient brand of offense while doing a good job on the boards despite being under-sized.
Martin Flores and Najera scored off of the same back-screen play to open the second half to give the Bobcats their biggest lead of the game at 28-22. The Warriors would get right back in it as Tipton got a short layin to fall, followed by a steal and layup from Gage Estes, and another big hoop down low from Grajeda to tie it at 28-all.
Najera would answer by going 4-for-4 from the line to stretch the Cat lead to 32-28. Following another big post move from Grajeda, the Bobcats would get a free throw and a bucket at the buzzer from Martin Trevizo to make it 35-31 Bobcats heading into the final frame.
The Warriors would make a big statement in the final quarter as they outscored the Bobcats 20-6. The Bobcats last lead would be 37-35 early following a Flores basket, but then the Warriors went on a game-defining 10-0 run. Tipton scored three straight baskets down low in the run as they would lead 45-37 with 1:28 to go.
“In the first half, we didn’t look to utilize our size to our advantage,” stated Coach Dan Smith. “That’s one thing coming out of the half that we talked about doing – utilizing our post to our advantage. I think they did a great job in the second half.”
Coach Smith continued explaining that following Grajeda’s big game down low, they went to Tipton. “Same thing. We started to use what God has given us and that was one of our strong suits.”
Najera, who finished with 14 points to lead the Bobcats, was held scoreless in the final quarter as the Warriors repeatedly swarmed over him.
“Najera is a good strong player,” said Smith. “He can penetrate. He can shoot. He can pull up. He’s got all three facets of the game, so we had to kind of keep keying on him and I think our boys did a good job of recognizing that and doing what we asked.”
The Bobcats were forced to foul to play catch-up and Waide promptly went 6-for-6 down the stretch to put the game away for the final 51-41 win.
Coach Rodriguez was pleased that his team could maintain their lead despite the dominant post game that the Warriors were using. “We limited them in the first three quarters and then it just slowly took its toll on us. They were going to new moves and it was hard for us to adjust. They really controlled the boards there in the fourth quarter. That really helped them a lot. We had done a good job with the defensive rebounding, but they got the better of us in that fourth quarter.”
Grajeda would finish with 15 points while Tipton and Waide would end up with 13 apiece in the semi-final win.
The Warriors (19-8) travel to Tatum on Saturday evening for the district championship game. Both teams will be looking for a big win in hopes of hosting a first round state playoff game. The Bobcats were on the proverbial playoff bubble heading into the game, and that’s where they firmly remained following the tough loss.
Dexter 73, Eunice 65
Dexter struggled at the free throw laundering regulation, but made them when they counted most in overtime. Dexter trailed for three quarters. Dexter got a strong performance from David Miramontes with 37 points and Joseph Cobos aded 10 points.
“Our boys never gave up,” Demons coach Arthur Cobos said. “We played our game in overtime, we’re playing our type of basketball: run, run, run.”
Dexter will travel to Tularosa for a 6 p.m. game Saturday.