Bridges, Braves down Cardinals

March 2, 2019

Message received.

Left on the bench to start Thursday night’s District 2-3A Tournament boys basketball semifinal at the Pueblo Pavilion, James Bridges didn’t need much time — or added motivation — to check into the game and play like his hair was on fire.

The Santa Fe Indian School senior had a double-double before halftime and finished with 26 points, 16 rebounds and a pair of massive blocked shots to lead the Braves (16-10) to a 62-46 win over Las Vegas Robertson. Bidding for a potential top 3 seed in next week’s Class 3A State Tournament, fourth-ranked SFIS advances to Saturday night’s district championship against top-ranked St. Michael’s.

Tickets go on sale Friday afternoon and officials from both schools anticipate they’ll all be gone within an hour or two. Perez-Shelley Memorial Gymnasium seats fewer than 1,000 people and SFIS gets 20 percent of the tickets to sell on its own.

“That’s the game we’ve all wanted,” Bridges said. “Both teams, I think, believe they have something to prove and us and them, that’s the way it should be.”

Bridges sat on the bench for all of 44 seconds to start Thursday’s game. He checked in at the 7:16 mark of the first quarter and literally jumped into beast mode the moment he got in. He had two rebounds — one on a missed free throw, the other on his own failed putback — as soon as he entered the fray.

He had six points and nine re-bounds in the first quarter and 12 points with 11 boards in the first half.

“We did a little something to get his attention, you know what I mean?” said SFIS head coach Jason Abeyta. “He had to know he has to come strong every time he’s on the court and that was one way for us to do that.”

Robertson (15-13) had the lead after one quarter but an Anders Pecos bucket early in the second quarter triggered a 10-1 run that put the Braves in control the rest of the way. The margin was nine points at the half and as many as 18 in the third quarter.

Through it all was Bridges. Lean and lightning quick, he had his way against Robertson’s similar-sized Julius Vaughn. The two engaged in a few minor shoves and dished out some trash talk, but this was a night for Bridges. He crashed the boards with abandon in the first half, helping SFIS establish the style and pace it wanted.

“When James flies to the rebounds the way he was this game and our guards play the way they did, we can be pretty dangerous,” Abeyta said. “If we’re going to do this, we need that from [Bridges] every game. I think other teams kind of come down on him but it’s up to all of us to get it done.”

Jaden Aguino had 11 points and Pecos 10 for SFIS. Only six Braves scored, four of them coming from Kobe Garcia. It was he who started in Bridges’ place and it was he who grabbed the first rebound of the night. When he did, the first person off the bench to yell encouragement was Bridges.

“When we put him in you could just see it in his face,” Abeyta said. “He was ready.”

Robertson did manage to trim the deficit down to 50-42 after three quarters, but the Cardinals fell apart on offense in the final eight minutes. They had just one field goal (with 35 seconds remaining) in the fourth quarter. Bridges gave credit to the SFIS guards.

“Those guys, I feel like they get overlooked a lot,” Bridges said. “Ethan [Roanhorse], Jason [Abeyta] and Anders, they do so much. All those guys. I don’t want to sound like I’m saying anything big about myself, but I think teams focus on me a lot but it’s the guards that do so much. We can’t do anything without them.”

Roanhorse had seven points and Abeyta, the coach’s son, had four while running the point.

Robertson got 14 points from guards Nicholas Marrujo and 10 from Matthew Gonzales. No one else had more than six.

The Cardinals entered the 2-3A Tournament as the No. 4 seed and were playing their third game in three different gyms in as many days. They scored a mild upset at No. 3 West Las Vegas on Wednesday, giving them a 15-win resume that may be enough to land them a top-8 seed and home court advantage in the opening round of the state tournament.

Pairings will be announced Sunday evening by the New Mexico Activities Association, and it’s the hope of SFIS coach Abeyta that his team will climb into the top three in 3A. Doing so would keep the Braves on the opposite side of the bracket as presumed No. 1 St. Michael’s.

“I think we’ve shown we can be one of those teams, but you never know,” he said.