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Roswell to face defending state champions

Roswell’s Jasia Reese (4) puts up a shot in the lane against Las Cruces at the Coyote Den in 2020. The Coyotes will play defending 5A state champion Las Cruces tonight at 6 p.m. at the Coyote Den. (Daily Record File Photo)

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If the Roswell Coyotes make it to the championship game, they will have done it the old-fashioned way — they will have earned it. So far this season, no one has been able to solve the puzzle of the Las Cruces Bulldawgs.

Roswell senior TJ Fletcher (23) goes up for a basket April 6 at the Coyote Den. (Daily Record File Photo)

The ‘Dawgs are undefeated this season at 13-0 and if you include the end of last season, are 17-0. They have not lost since losing to Onate on Feb. 28, 58-48. The closest game they have played this season was a 56-52 win against district rival Alamogordo on April 27.

Roswell should not be intimated by playing the Bulldawgs, in fact, they played them at home last year on Jan. 6, and was able to stay with them for a quarter as they trailed 12-11 going into the second quarter. In the second quarter, with the height and athleticism is when they pulled away outscoring Roswell 15-12 to go on and win, 64-39 at the Coyote Den.

“We played them last year,” Roswell coach Moses “Dude” Burrola said. “They have a couple of players that are DI (Division I) prospects. We will have to contend with the coach’s son, William “Deuce” Benjamin and the 6-foot-10 kid (Isaiah Carr). They also have a 6-foot-11 kid. They are big. We are going to have our hands full.”

On Tuesday night, Los Lunas tried a different tack with the ‘Dawgs and went into a stall and slowed the game down. It worked for the first half, until Las Cruces came out in the second half and applied more pressure with their press and forced the Tigers into turnovers.

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Las Cruces seems to be sitting on a dynasty in the making. They only have two seniors, but the cog to their offense is the little guard and the coach’s son, Deuce Benjamin, who has Division I schools looking at him.

He is a crafty lefty, with athleticism and can get to the cup. He is able to knock down the 3-point shot, and is deadly from the elbow in. He can create his own shot off the dribble and off screens. Roswell will have their work cut out for them tonight.

If that wasn’t enough for Roswell coach Moses “Dude” Burrola to worry about, the ‘Dawgs have Carr, a 6-foot-10 player that can dominate down low on the blocks. Carr was held down in the first half against the Tigers but came alive in the second half to lead all scorers with 21 points as they defeated Los Lunas 46-38 to advance to the semifinal game tonight.

Outside of Hobbs, Roswell will have to get past Las Cruces’ press and not turn the ball over. The game last year turned when the Bulldawgs were able to speed up the Coyotes and force them into turnovers.

Roswell is a deeper and much more athletic team this year than last year. In the game against Las Cruces, the Coyotes were lead in scoring by Dominic Nava with 17 points — no other Coyote had double digits.

“We are going to have to worry about ourselves,” “Dude” said. “We have to do what we have to do, and hopefully it is enough to get us a win. We hope to get to the state championship game and if we do that, anything can happen.”

“Dude” said his district (District 4) is one of the toughest in the region. He thinks they are right there with the rest of the teams in the state. “Dude” looks to take advantage of being one of the final four teams in the state.

“To be able to advance is a big deal,” “Dude” said. “I think the rough season we have played will help us. We were able to work on some things, playing back-to-back games. This rest will help us get our legs under us. We respect everyone and fear no one.”

“Dude” said there is a reason that Las Cruces is the No. 1 team in the state. The game will come down to if we can keep their big kids off the glass. We feel like we can neutralize their guard and he’s a great athlete, but we have guards we feel can match up with Benjamin. We need Alonzo Acosta and TJ Fletcher to play well against their big men.

“For all of our seniors,” “Dude” said, “to have to lose this senior group is going to be rough. I know these kids personally. I know their families very well; it’s going to be hard when that final buzzer goes off, win or lose. Losing those guys will be rough, we have been through a lot of wars together, but we will have to replace them like we have other senior classes.”

Roswell and Las Cruces will tip off tonight at 6 p.m. at the Coyote Den.

Sports editor J.T. Keith can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 304, or sports@rdrnews.com.

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