Jaguars overcome injures to beat Manzano, face Santa Fe High for district tournament title

March 3, 2019

ALBUQUERQUE — When star power fades, true teams continue to shine.

It seems like every week over the past two months brought a new name — and usually an important one — to the injury list in Santa Fe. On Friday night, Capital junior wing T.J. Sanchez was the latest to appear on the list as a sprained ankle turned him into a cheerleader from the bench for the District 5-5A semifinal at Manzano. What he and the rest of the crowd witnessed was the emergence of the rest of the Jaguars.

Junior Chano Herrera scored a game-high 15 points and Brandon Saiz added 13, Saiz and Siji Olivas showed hustle and moxie in the final seconds to cap a 54-47 win to advance to the 5-5A championship game against crosstown rival Santa Fe High. The game is at 7 p.m. Saturday at Santa Fe High.

It will be the first time the two crosstown rivals play for a boys basketball district title since the creation of Capital in 1988.

Capital (21-8) won three games in four days to reach its fourth straight district championship. The Jaguars have played in three straight 2-5A title games before classification and alignment put Capital in the state’s highest class this season.

The Jaguars had to finish Wednesday’s 62-55 overtime win over Albuquerque High without Sanchez in the overtime period after he severely sprained his right ankle.

That left the Jaguars without their top two scorers, after losing junior forward Seth Arroyos in the final week of the regular season. He is likely done for the year with concussion-like symptoms. Junior Elias Rodriguez said he felt that opponents underestimated the rest of the team, especially after Sanchez started scoring in bunches during the 5-5A season.

“They [the Monarchs] did that [Friday] against us,” Rodriguez said.

If Manzano had any doubts about the rest of Capital’s team, which suited just nine players, those doubts were erased by the end of the opening quarter.

The Jaguars knocked down three 3-pointers and Saiz drained a corner 3 with six seconds left to give them a 17-9 lead. Sophomore Dominic Luna hit a 3 with 4:32 left in the first half that upped the margin to 27-16. Capital played against type by hitting five 3s in the opening quarter.

That forced Manzano out of its man-to-man defense and into a 3-2 zone that gave the Jaguars fits in the second half.

“The zone was something we wanted to stay away from, just because it slows down our game and were kinda playing theirs,” Saiz said.

A fast-paced, uptempo game suddenly turned into a half-court chess match, and the Monarchs (14-12) were making strong moves to start the third quarter.

The Monarchs hit five of their first six shots in the quarter, and were 17-for-27. Manzano also took better care of the ball, committing just four turnovers in the second half after recording 12 by halftime.

When James Sandoval scored in a spin move in the paint with 4:08 left in the quarter, Manzano held a 36-33 lead and forced Jaguars head coach Ben Gomez to call a timeout.

Then Capital went into a zone defense. Mixing a combination of defenses, the Monarchs struggled to get easy looks. They missed four of five from the field to finish the third quarter, and hit just four of their final 19 attempts.

“Our coach’s game plan was just to switch up the D and keep them off-guard,” Rodriguez said. “It worked.”

Not that the Jaguars did any better, as they only led 44-42 and went through a 2:28 cold streak that Herrera finally snapped with a pair of free throws at the 2:51 mark of the fourth. Once again, the Capital played against type and hit its free throws — eight of nine to close out the game and were 14-for-15 for the evening.

The one miss turned into the signature sequence for the Jaguars.

Saiz missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but raced in to grab the rebound and a putback attempt that missed. In came Olivas for the second try and he made it for a 50-42 lead. When the Monarchs tried to roll the ball into play, Saiz stole the ball, just like he did when Albuquerque High tried it in the closing seconds of overtime Wednesday.

“I’m just feeling it when I do that,” Saiz said of his inbound-stealing strategy. “It just happens.”

But true teams — ones that continue to thrive despite key absences — don’t just happen. It just took necessity and a little bit of heart for the Jaguars to realize they are more than a one- or a two-man show.