Goddard coach Anthony Mestas certainly knows what it’s like to be the hunted, but not at Goddard. Now, the Rockets open defense of their District 4-4A title when they play back-to-back games. On Friday, they hit the road and play Lovington — Saturday, they play Portales. RDR Sports asked Mestas if he felt any pressure being the defending champion, and his thoughts on last year and the players he’s lost.
“No pressure at all,” Mestas said. “We graduated the district player of the year in Jonah Chavez, and lost Derek Carrica. We lost the best defensive player that was in our district and the best defensive player I have coached at Goddard in Jon Carrillo. We lost Hunter Beene, who is the best defensive post player I have coached at Goddard.”
Lovington has already played one game, losing to Artesia, 61-44, on Tuesday. Goddard went perfect in the district last year and won the regular-season title and the district crown. Every one of the 4-4A teams claims to be struggling, and to have not played their best basketball yet.
“We lost a lot from last year’s team,” Mestas said, “and we are playing … competitive with our guys now. Lovington likes to play fast and up-tempo. Playing a team like Roswell High helps us prepare for Lovington. It is gonna be a difficult task to go to Lovington and win there, but we are up for the challenge.”
RDR Sports reached out to all of the teams in the district and the only team not to respond was Lovington.
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Goddard was expected to be a heavy favorite to repeat this season, but that was before a football injury took Hunter Beene off the court. Senior big man Ryan Terry has missed the season and they have had to find much-needed offense.
Goddard has found a leader and scoring from senior guard Brandon Montanez. Montanez has become the team’s best player and the team has gone as he has gone.
The inside has been sophomore Noah “Young Money” Reese.
This is still a deep team and a hungry team. The loss of players and injuries has forced other players to step up. Speedy James Torrez is able to outrun most of the other team’s players, sharp-shooting guard Gabriel Campos can and has hit the three-point shot.
The most surprising player and the most dominating big man in 4A has to be Anthony Panto. Panto is a force down low — he sort of has the football mentality and isn’t afraid to get physical. He can also step out and hit the three-point shot.
Mestas has gone back to playing man-to-man defense and letting his team run the ball and fire away. It has made them a scary team. Mestas will play a lot of players and he will always get a great effort out of competitive Taylor Ramage, who has become the team’s enforcer.
For the Rockets to go far in district and make it to state again, they will have to have good efforts out of the Hicks brothers: Jared and Jeremy. Most teams know they will have to stop Montanez and usually will throw a box-and-one on Goddard.
As Goddard starts the defense of their title, they will have to remember to get touches to Austin “Mad Bomber” Ramey. He is going to need to take six threes a game during the tournament, just to keep defenses honest and open up the offensive games for the rest of the Rockets.
Mestas said the only time Portales would agree to play their makeup game was on Saturday, so they will have to play back to back. Mestas feels like Portales is the opposite of Lovington — the Rams like to slow it down. They run zone all game long and they run their offense patiently.
The Rockets’ Montanez is considered one of the best players in the district based on the district coaches. He was runner-up for player of the year in the district last year. Portales ran a box-and-one against Montanez last year. He is a very difficult matchup because he can shoot, dribble, pass and he can score when needed.
“Every team in the district will be keying on Brandon,” Mestas said. “We are gonna need other guys to step up and score for us. We are gonna have to have big games from Noah Reese, Damian Aragon and others to contend in this district. Hopefully, our pre-district schedule will help us as we had the hardest pre-district schedule, by the strength of schedule, over the other district teams.
“We have to keep Brandon and Noah out of foul trouble,” Mestas said, “in order for us to have a chance in every game. It is gonna be fun because every team in our district presents a difficult challenge for us, but we have prepared. I guarantee our guys at Goddard will be solid, hard-nose defense, and they will give you everything they got to represent their school and family with pride.”
Portales’ coach, Rickie McBroom: “We feel we are playing well as we enter district. I feel our district is one of the top two districts, top to bottom, in our class. You had better play every night in our district or you will be in trouble. Because of the short, three-week district schedule, I think every game will be played with a lot of intensity. We don’t feel playing back-to-back games will be an issue. Both Portales and Goddard have played in three-game tournaments and had back-to-back games in our schedules this season. We need to play hard, smart and consistent to be successful.”
Artesia coach, Mike Mondragon: Have you ever seen the district this tough? “Yes, I have — it seems every single year our district is a dogfight. We all have great athletes and all the district teams have great coaching, so it is going to be a dogfight every night.”
How’s your team playing? “I feel we are playing really well right now, obviously still have a lot of work to do to clean things up, but we’re excited about where we are at and where we are going.”
What will you tell your team going into the last five games of district? “The first thing I am going to tell them is to focus on all the little things, make sure we take care of those things on a consistent basis. The next thing is to make sure we are getting better, still have five opportunities to improve, and the last thing is to have fun. Oftentimes we get too caught up in all of the other stuff when we need to make sure we enjoy the process and journey and have fun.”
How important are these games to seeding? “These are extremely important seeding games but at the same time, we can’t get caught up in all of that. We just have to focus on all of the things that help us be successful, all the rest of that stuff will take care of itself.”
Is your team starting to jell and play its best basketball? “I think so, it’s a long process and always a work in the program type of situation, but I feel we are starting to hit our stride and starting to play our best basketball of the year.”
What will be the key to the remaining games? “The key is going to be focusing on the fundamental things that make you successful, taking care of the ball, rebounding, and playing great defense. Focus on all of those small things and the success will take care of itself. We are confident in the team we have and we just have to go out there and execute.”