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Santa Fe High falls short in title bid, loses 61-58 to Atrisco Heritage

March 18, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE — Everything was red.

The trophy.

The faces.

The eyes that were full of tears.

Even the backs of the chairs that the Santa Fe High Demons sat on as they talked about all of the good they had done in the 2018-19 basketball season screamed the one color none of them wanted to see.

Fedonta “J.B.” White, who missed the last 16 games of the season with a dislocated patella, wailed for several minutes, a sound that rose above the dim of sniffles and quiet sobs that permeated the locker room. Even Santa Fe High head coach Zack Cole couldn’t hold back the tears, as he broke down and cried when he tried to bring the team together for one final moment.

As red as everything was in the room, the true color that the Demons bled was blue.

It was blue they wanted — as in the championship trophy for winning the Class 5A state championship.

The dream season that sent the city of Santa Fe into a craze — one that culminated in an almost sold-out crowd in The Pit, praying for a 5A title — ended in heartbreak for those wearing the gold and navy blue. For the second year in a row, Atrisco Heritage hoisted the blue trophy, signifying a state title, beating the Demons 61-58 on Saturday in The Pit.

Just like last year, when Dove Hernandez hit a prayer shot from near midcourt to send Santa Fe High’s first-round game against the Jaguars into overtime, hopes and dreams rested on a miracle. When Cody Garcia’s halfcourt shot came up several feet short of the rim, Atrisco Heritage once again escaped the Demons’ clutches.

Once again, Santa Fe High (24-8) will try to use the moment to fuel its fire for another state championship run.11

“We lost to them by three, and they went on to win it last year,” Demons head coach Zack Cole said. “We match up with them in the championship game this year, and they win it again. [Jaguars head coach Adrian Ortega] is doing a great job with them, and it was good to see two teams that play so hard and are bought in with one another, as opposed to the most talented team.”

The difference between the two teams, which Cole said were mirror images of each other, was minute. It could be argued that Atrisco Heritage (22-7) was the more aggressive team, as players made 17 of 21 free throws, compared to the 6-for-6 by the Demons. Eight of the Jaguars’ free throws came in the final 43.5 seconds as the Demons tried desperately to get any misses to mount a comeback. Atrisco Heritage hit six of them to keep just enough distance.

Or, it could have been something as simple as a 2-minute cold spell in that helped the Jaguars build a 51-46 lead when DeMarcus Sutphen hit one of two free throws with 3:59 left. However, Santa Fe High responded with an 8-2 spurt that gave it a temporary 54-53 lead when Antonio Lovato hit a pair of free throws at 2:30 of the final quarter.

Cody Garcia hit two big 3s in that run to help bring the Demons back from the brink. But when they needed a third 3 from him, it rattled halfway in — and out. Dominic Rivas grabbed the rebound and was fouled by Carlos Dassaro, and his two makes gave Atrisco Heritage a 55-54 lead it never lost.

“It was halfway down,” Cole said.

“I thought it was going to fall,”

Garcia said. “But you can’t do anything about it.”

If anything, though, the Jaguars were just a tick better at all the things the Demons did well. They used seven 3s to fashion a 31-29 lead at the half, as Dominic Rivas exploded for five 3s and finished with 18 points. in the second half, Joziah Ramos scored 16 of his 22 points to continue his impressive play after scoring 28 in leading the Jaguars to a 62-59 overtime win over Rio Rancho Cleveland in Thursday’s semifinal.

Santa Fe High answered with the quartet of Garcia (14 points), Antonio Lovato (14), Cruz Martinez (10) and Dassaro (10). Martinez scored the Demons’ last four points on a pair drives to the basket. His last one cut the lead to 58-56 with 3.2 seconds left, and Dassaro fouled Isaiah Brooks with 1.8 seconds left. Brooks made one of two, but it was just enough.

While Atrisco Heritage struggled to score on its drives to the basket, the fouls the Jaguars accumulated put them at the line 19 times in the second half. The Demons only made 5 of 13 shots from inside the arc, but only got to the line four times.

“It was almost like playing against ourselves in practice,” said Ortega, a Las Vegas Robertson graduate. “We go up [by five points], and all of a sudden, they’re up by one. You’re going like, ‘Holy cow, what does it take to stop these guys?’ ”

In the end, it was just a couple of misses that helped Atrisco Heritage regain control. A couple of misses that left Santa Fe High wanting.

All Cole could do in the end was tip his cap to Ortega and the Jaguars.

“It’s nice to see two teams that are doing it right,” Cole said.

But for one of them — the Atrisco Heritage Jaguars — they did it just a little bit better.