Pecos boys repeat as state champs
ALBUQUERQUE —Last March, when the Pecos Panthers won the Class 3A state basketball title, it had been 51 years since their previous championship triumph.
It was only 364 days between titles this time. Pecos handed top-rated Texico its first defeat of the season 58-44 in the 3A boys’ final Saturday at The Pit, becoming the first Las Vegas-area hoops team to earn a repeat state championship.
Senior and team captain Mario Archuleta, whose inspired second-half work was greeted with chants of “MVP” from the Pecos crowd, said team unity was vital to pulling out the victory.
“We’re all brothers,” he said, “so close to each other. We have the best coaching staff in the world … We’re always working. A lot of practice goes on, things you don’t see … The reason we’re champs in March is what we do in the offseason.”
Saturday’s game was a lot closer than the 14-point final spread indicated. The lead changed hands 11 times, and until the 6-minute mark of the fourth quarter, neither side led by more than five.
The Wolverines, relying on the muscle of big man Nathan Phipps, were the first to lead, and they were up 10-8 after a taut first period. A Josh DeHerrera layup at half’s end gave Pecos a 25-21 lead, matching its largest to that point. Texico — whose 29 wins had included 26 by double-digit margins — started the third period on a 9-0 run.
A Skyler Davis 3-pointer made it 30-25 Wolverines with about five and a half minutes left in the quarter. Mario Archuleta ended Pecos’ dry spell by nailing a 3-pointer. Then teammate Anthony Armijo hit one, regaining the lead 31-30. With superior conditioning showing its face, Pecos continued to cut off passing lanes and force off-target shots.
Increasingly, that led to opportunities down the open floor. Archuleta made another trey late in the period, and the Panthers led 37-35 going into the fourth.
Archuleta, who interacted with the more than 3,000 Panther fans in attendance at The Pit, wasn’t done. He hit a 3 and scored nine points in a 12-0 spurt for the defending champs. Pecos led 47-37 with 3:24 remaining.
“With eight minutes left,” said Pecos head coach Ira Harge Jr., “they came together as a team. They never get down or start pointing fingers. They’re brothers; they fight for each other.”
From that point on, it was a free throw shooting game. The Panthers made 13 of 21 in the final stanza, while Texico made 7 of 10. Archuleta finished with a game-high 18 points, six rebounds and two assists. Fellow seniors DeHerrera (10 points, six boards, two assists) and Carlos Cordova (nine points, five boards) were other key contributors.
Phipps had 11 points and nine rebounds to lead Texico; Dalton Thatcher added 10 points and a game-high four assists. Pecos held Texico to 27 percent shooting, nabbing a dozen steals and coming up with 19 turnovers.
“We were just composed,” said Cordova of the Panther response to the ebb and flow of the second half. “We knew they were going to make runs, and we were going to make runs.”
“We’ve played a lot of tough games (including Bernalillo, the No. 1 team in 4A, playing for that state title later Saturday),” said Archuleta. “We’ve been in this situation before.”
Harge, who credited his assistants with scouting and developing an effective game plan against both Texico and semifinal opponent Estancia, has guided the Panthers to three consecutive final fours in 3A, winning the last two blue trophies.