Santa Fe High beats Albuquerque Manzano, hits historic 20-win mark

February 26, 2019

Nothing is easy.

It might as well be the mantra of the 2018-19 Santa Fe High boys basketball season, because nothing has come easily for the program, especially over the past two months.

On Monday night, the Demons decided it was time to make life miserable for someone else.

They contested almost every shot the Albuquerque Manzano Monarchs put up and it led to an 11-for-36 performance from the field, which fueled Santa Fe High to a 54-37 win in the District 5-5A playoff in Capital’s Edward A. Ortiz Memorial Gymnasium.

It was the first time in 39 years Santa Fe High (20-7) reached the 20-win barrier and just the third time in that time it will be the top seed for the district tournament. This was also the fourth straight win for the Demons after losing four of five.

Santa Fe High will play for the district tournament title at 7 p.m. Saturday in Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium, and there will be no controversy about the location of the game — unlike this one. Albuquerque Manzano head coach Dominick Romero complained in an Albuquerque Journal story about potentially coming to Santa Fe for the playoff game.

However, the district athletic directors unanimously agreed to give the team that held the head-to-head tiebreaker or had the higher MaxPreps.com Freeman rankings the choice of venue. So, it happened that the game took place at Capital because Santa Fe High held the point-differential advantage (the Demons won by 13 in Albuquerque while losing by three to the Monarchs in Santa Fe).

“If Manzano had the tiebreaker over us, I guarantee this game would have been at Sandia, which technically would have been a home game for them,” Santa Fe High head coach Zack Cole said. “Rules are rules, and if people don’t like rules and want them to be changed, then you got to vote them out.”

Even though Demons fans came out in force, almost selling out the gym, what mattered more was what their team did on the court. And Santa Fe High was pesky all night long, as Manzano (14-11) missed 13 of its first 18 shots and turned the ball over 10 times in the second half. The Demons packed in their 2-3 zone defense, daring the Monarchs to shoot from the outside. Manzano, though, didn’t take the bait, as they shot only seven 3-pointers and made one — a buzzer beating triple by Tyler Allen to end the first quarter to cut the deficit to 15-10.

Instead, Santa Fe High challenged every shot, no matter how close to the basket the Monarchs were. And they struggled to knock down most of their attempts.

“We just always have to stay moving,” said Demons senior guard Antonio Lovato. “You got to anticipate the next pass and be here on the catch, because they have good shooters and they are going to put it up.”

The Monarchs’ offensive woes ruined an otherwise solid defensive performance that saw the Demons hit just seven of their 22 shots from the perimeter and make 15 of 42 shots before finishing with a 5-for-7 spurt. Still, Santa Fe High fashioned enough scoring runs to augment its defensive stinginess.

Cole said he felt the outcomes of Friday’s games, in which the Demons beat Albuquerque Rio Grande and the Monarchs lost to Capital to force the playoff, might have had a lingering effect.

“It was two opposite mindsets,” Cole said. “You had one team that had to fight and scratch and claw to get this opportunity. And you had a time that had an opportunity and let it slip away. So I think out mindset was positive, real charged up. Theirs is a little frustrated and disappointed. That challenges teams to stay together.”

When the Demons started off the second half by hitting their first three shots, including 3s by Christian Kavanaugh and Cruz Martinez, they turned a 25-18 halftime advantage into a 33-20 edge.

Manzano never got closer than 11, even though Santa Fe High hit a lull after Lovato’s three-point play off a driving layup with 4:58 left in the third.

The Demons missed their next 10 shots, but the Monarchs could only muster a pair of free throws by Spencer Kalivoda and an Allen layup to get within 37-26 by the end of the quarter.

Martinez, who had a team-high 16 points, hit consecutive jumpers to open the fourth quarter and push the lead to 43-27, and the smell of a 20th win filled the gym.

As has been the case over the last four games, Santa Fe High got some help from some unlikely heroes. This time, it was P.J. Lovato who stepped up in the second half to score five points in his first game back since he sprained his ankle midway through the district season.

His consecutive layups within 30 seconds of each other in the fourth quarter made it 47-31 with 4:19 left.

“It’s been tough, but I am there for the team,” P.J. Lovato said. “Whatever they need I’ll be there, whether it’s on the bench or on the court.”

It’s that unselfish mindset that brought the Demons from the brink of a disastrous season to the brink of fulfilling the promise they had when the season began.