St. Michael's plays with poise to end drought against Santa Fe High

Dec. 4—Silence is golden, and it never felt better for the St. Michael's Horsemen.

The normally rowdy Santa Fe High student section was in midseason form Saturday night, harassing and taunting the Horsemen prior to a clash with the host Demons for the Bobby Rodriguez Capital City Tournament title. That continued through most of the game — until the fourth quarter.

Oh, there were a few Demons students trading jabs with Horsemen players, but it was mostly silent. The scoreboard told the story for the muted crowd, as

St. Michael's held a 44-26 lead before settling for a 47-37 win in Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium. It was the first tournament championship for the program since 2011.

"Yeah, it felt good," sophomore Sabiani Rios said. It's been a long time since that happened."

Rios was an elementary school student the last time St. Michael's could boast quieting the boisterous Santa Fe High crowd, which happened on Dec. 20, 2013, in the tournament semifinals.

The Demons had claimed the bragging rights over nine games during that time and often in dominating fashion since head coach Zack Cole took over in 2016.

This time, though, the terms of the engagement were dictated by the Horsemen. Even though they committed 27 turnovers on the night, they were able to mute the impact of those miscues by simply getting back on defense and forcing the Demons into difficult shots.

When St. Michael's (4-0) did get the ball into the frontcourt, it was methodical and patient in attacking the Demons' almost constant pressure.

"I told the guys we had to keep our composure," Horsemen head coach Gerard Garcia said. "We have to be strong with the ball because what they like to do is come from behind and tip that ball. I've seen them do that over and over in previous games."

Garcia would know, having spent more than 25 years in the Horsemen program. In fact, when he called his first timeout moments after the team committed its third turnover and trailed 5-2, Garcia reminded the Horsemen of the goal.

By the end of the opening quarter, St. Michael's held a 14-12 lead and held on to it for all but 40 seconds of the next three quarters.

When the Demons (2-1) did speed up the Horsemen, they struggled to convert turnovers into points. They collected 16 steals but only managed nine points off of them. That was because Santa Fe High only hit 11 of 51 shots on the night.

Cole said it was equal parts poor execution on his team's part and the variety of zone defenses the Horsemen played, although they remained in the 2-3 zone for most of the second half.

"We're missing layups in transition, we're missing dump-pass layups, we're missing open 3s," Cole said. "Luckily, we shot decent from the [free-throw] line to keep us in the game in the first half."

A 9-for-11 effort from the stripe kept Santa Fe High right on its opponents heels at 21-20 at the half. But the third quarter proved to be the tipping point. The Horsemen only committed five turnovers in the quarter, and the slower pace allowed them to find openings in Santa Fe High's defense.

Freshman post Donevan Ricker was a huge presence, scoring four points, grabbing six rebounds and even collecting a pair of steals to lead a 13-3 spurt in the quarter.

His putback with 3:27 left in the quarter gave St. Michael's breathing room at 28-20, and Ricker finished the game with nine points, 11 rebounds and three steals.

"Donevan really grew up tonight," Garcia said. "He really did."

Then there were the heady plays St. Michael's made, especially by Marco C'de Baca. He had a beautiful pass to tournament MVP Adam Montoya on a backdoor cut for a 32-23 lead with 1:35 left in the third.In the fourth, he followed Demons guard Lukas Turner out of a scrum, stole the ball and cruised in for a breakaway layup and a 36-23 lead with 7:13 left and got the Horsemen faithful on their feet.

"Off the ball, you just have to scan, scan and read the defense," C'de Baca said. "There is always a gap, you just have to recognize it."

And for one night, the Horsemen recognized silence, and it was the most beautiful sound they heard.

Third place

Albuquerque Valley 78, Santa Fe Indian School 54

It took the Braves a half to find their offense, but the Vikings opened up a 41-17 lead at the break by that point. Valley hit eight of its 10 3-pointers in the opening half, with five coming during a 25-point second quarter.

Tyler Kowslowski had a team-high 16 points for the Vikings (3-1), while Julian Chavez added 15 and Bryan Flores 12.

SFIS (3-2) did its damage in the second half around the perimeter, hitting 11 3s. Owen Pecos had five of them and six for the game as he scored a game-high 22 points. Jamel Alanzo had 14 points and Kenyan Callado added 13.

Fifth place

Los Alamos 50, Valencia 43

The Hilltoppers (2-2) claimed the consolation championship by rallying from a 32-20 halftime deficit to the Jaguars (1-4). A stingy defense allowed just 11 points the rest of the way, while the guard tandem of Niko Garcia and Josiah Fresquez combined for 24 of their 40 overall points after the break.

Garcia scored 15 second-half points and had 22 to lead Los Alamos, while Fresquez chipped in with 18.

Seventh place

Fairfax (Ariz.) 55, Española Valley 53

The Stampede outbattled the Sundevils to earn their first win in a battle of winless teams. Fairfax drained four 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to hold off Española, which struggled at the line down the stretch. The Sundevils got to the line 14 times but made just six shots in the quarter.

Vinny Rodriguez led the Stampede (1-7) with 20 points, while the Sundevils (0-4) had Jadyn Martinez score a team-high 19 points, and Nathan Chacon added 13.