Look back five years ago and take a young, hot shot basketball coach at Hagerman. All that coach did for Hagerman was take a dying basketball program and rebuild it into a perennial state basketball power. This coach led the Bobcats to an undefeated season (31-0, 2011) and won two out of the last three state championships when he coached there.
Life and basketball were good for young Anthony Mestas. Everything Mestas touched in basketball turned to gold. Knowing that he had 2A basketball under control — Mestas sought out a bigger challenge after winning the state title by defeating Escalante, 56-41 in 2014. Mestas was seeking a bigger challenge, and to answer the question he had asked himself privately — could he win with the big boys?
“The reason I took this job,” Mestas said, “it was a challenge and a family decision at the time. I wanted to try something different. I still wanted to coach and I was still young.”
When former Goddard basketball coach Kevin Jones resigned, there was a wide search and Mestas was selected for the opportunity to coach the Rockets. Mestas and his wife made the decision to take the job when it was offered. Mestas didn’t have to wonder long if his style of play could match up with the Roswells, Artesias and Lovingtons of the world, he would soon find out.
Many of the Rocket faithful were waiting to see if Mestas could do what he had done in Hagerman here at Ground Zero. What enticed Mestas to take the job at Goddard was he liked the administration, fans and that it was a football school. He also felt that he could turn Goddard into a basketball power, but more importantly, he believed he could win and take the team to The Pit and one day play for a state championship.
Coming into his fifth season, it looked like some of the luster had worn off — Mestas had had only one winning season in his four years and never finished above .500 in conference play. Mestas in his five seasons at Goddard is 68-69, overall, 13-20 in district play. He had never beaten crosstown-rival Roswell during his tenure. Mestas has led Goddard to state playoffs in 2015, a two-point loss to Farmington at Farmington. In 2016, they lost to Los Lunas by one point and in 2018 they lost to Los Lunas. The Rockets have made the playoffs four out of five seasons with Mestas as the coach, but it seemed like the fan base was growing restless.
Speaking of Roswell, it was that game at Ground Zero where the Rockets turned their season around. Many Goddard fans that were at that game wonder if things would have turned out differently if not for a technical foul called on Jonah “Little General” Chavez. He had to sit out the entire third quarter after he picked up his fourth foul right before halftime. Chavez came back but it wasn’t enough as they lost, 80-71.
The loss to Roswell catapulted the Rockets into one of the hottest teams in 4A basketball. Only a 72-62 loss at the Rock to Clovis has blemished them and that was back on Jan. 22. Goddard is on an eight-game winning streak and has won nine out of their last 10 games.
“I really felt like that was the turning point of our year,” Mestas said. “We lost to Roswell by nine points and they were at full strength, with Jasia Reese, Nate Dutchover and the Burrolas (Tarren and Taymon) were scoring. That’s the closest we played Roswell in years. After that, I thought ‘Holy-moly, we can play!’ and that was a turning point for us in a positive direction. That game helped us prepare and gotten us better.”
One of the reasons for the transformation is his team is a close team. The players like each other and are playing as a team. No one cares about stats and there are several players willing to do the dirty work to help them win. Goddard has switched back to a man-to-man defense. Spearheading the defensive charge is “Lockdown” Jon Carrillo, who oftentimes takes the other team’s best scorer, which is vital to their defense. Carrillo is not afraid to take an open shot and knock it down if he is open.
Senior center Derek Carrica may be the best passing big man in 4A. Oftentimes, the team will throw the ball in to him and let him make decisions on who has an open shot. Carrica is often aided by rugged Hunter Beene, who plays a lot like Dennis Rodman where he hustles and bangs under the boards and keeps balls alive for second-point opportunities for his team. Lately, Beene has been looking for his shot, which is another dimension to the Rockets.
One of the big keys this year is the emergence of off guard Brandon Montanez — one of the biggest differences this season is that he is healthy. Last year he was injured. Montanez has the size to drive the lane and to score inside, and he has range on his jumper to take a three-pointer.
On this eight-game run, junior guard Austin Ramey has hit some big shots and has three-point range. One of the best surprises has been explosive Xavier Garcia, who has learned to harness his explosiveness for the good of the team. He has learned when to take a shot and when to pass, and he is a lockdown defender as well.
The engine that makes the Rockets flow is Chavez. One of the key things is he never got down on himself and just kept playing basketball, and about midway through the season, he got his basketball legs and shot back and is leading the charge for a spot in the “Elite Eight” — all of these factors have come together for coach Mestas.
Mestas has not forgotten how to coach, he is still the coach who has won two Blue Trophies, and now he has his team knocking on the door to another trip to The Pit. The Rockets have to beat Portales for a fourth time at Ground Zero today to advance.
Mestas made the decision to slowly bring in freshman Noah Reese. Mestas allowed Reese to get comfortable in high school and to play with his freshman team. After the season was over with, he brought him up to varsity, and at 6-foot-3, has been a matchup problem for other teams.
“Lots of credit goes to our assistant coaches,” Mestas said. “Coaches, Scott Austin, Fernando Sosa and Eric Helmstetler — those coaches have worked with our players and helped them develop. They have put in time into those young men and into the Goddard program, which has everything to do with the success of the team this year.”
Goddard has beaten Portales this season: 45-42 on Feb. 5, at Portales. On Feb. 15, they defeated them, 48-38, at home, and in the district championship game — which is the last game Goddard played — Goddard won, 57-39. Goddard is one win away from returning to The Pit, their first trip since 2012.
“That’s been our goal,” Mestas said. “I told my wife it might take us five years to win a district championship — it took us five years. I told her it might take us five years to get back to The Pit. Here it is — we’re one game away. I want my team to experience playing at The Pit.”
Mestas’ five-year plan is just one win away from achieving his second goal of taking the Rockets’ to The Pit.
Goddard plays Portales today at Ground Zero at 6 p.m.