By Dave Wagner
FLOYD — It’s nice to win a regional tournament, but in New Mexico it’s more important to get to the finals.
Melrose and Floyd both accomplished that on Friday night, posting 14-point victories to assure berths in next week’s Class 1A state tournament in Albuquerque. The teams meet at 6 p.m. tonight for the Region B championship, a game which determines seeding at state.
Melrose survived 34 turnovers to down Santa Fe-based Desert Academy 83-69 in the nightcap after the host Broncos brought out the long-range artillery in the form of 16 3-pointers in a 77-63 win over Monte Del Sol in the opener.
Junior post Caleb Dodd led four Melrose players in double figures with 19 points while 6-foot-2 senior Tarron Whitehead came off the bench to score 15 points for the Buffs (19-8), including 13 in the fourth quarter when Melrose put the game away.
“I didn’t really have a good start, but coach (Casey Pack) got on me and I got on a little run,” Whitehead said. “There was a little pressure — it was either win or go home.”
Sophomore Carlos Ruiz added 15 points and senior Harvey Park 13 for Melrose, which took the lead for good late in the half. The Buffs began to break the game open when Park set up 3-point plays by Dodd and Whitehead in the first 17 seconds of the fourth quarter for a 61-51 lead.
“Desert Academy was a little better than I anticipated,” Pack said. “We had control (most of the way), but we didn’t really have it until about the last four minutes.”
The Wildcats, who won the District 2-1A tournament championship after finishing second in the regular season to Monte Del Sol, got 17 points from senior Robbie Delgado and 13 from junior Abran Ortiz. Senior Nick Kolkmeyer and junior Leon Lopez each scored 11 points.
It was the third time in coach Oliver Torres’ three years at the school that the Wildcats were eliminated in the regional semifinals.
“I felt like the pressure (of the game) got to my boys a little,” Torres said. “We weren’t playing in our normal confidence level. We’re capable of playing a lot better than we played today.”
Torres said Ortiz has been the team’s best player this season, but suffered contusions to both knees early in the game which limited his effectiveness.
Monte Del Sol, an alternative school also based in Santa Fe and eligible for the NMAA playoffs for the first time, simply couldn’t keep up with Floyd’s outside onslaught. The Broncos (20-7) got seven 3-pointers and 26 points from sophomore guard Jerrod Long, while junior guard Manny Carrillo added four treys and 14 points and freshman Jason Martinez came off the bench for 13 points.
Long said the Broncos’ eyes lit up when they saw the Dragons (14-10) playing a zone defense.
“I’m surprised they gave us the 3 like that,” he said. “I got a little worried in the (fourth) quarter when they got within about 11 (after trailing by 21). I thought we might fall apart, but everyone stepped up.
“We were just feeling it tonight.”
Broncos coach Jeff Gillespie said his squad was right at home in its own building.
“A lot of the younger guys stepped up, especially with (senior post Chance) Chenault in foul trouble,” Gillespie said. “I’m just glad we get to go to Albuquerque.”
For the Dragons, who have no seniors and three eighth graders on their 12-man roster, junior post Kelly Merker scored 26 points — including 19 in the second half — while junior post Tim Saldo chipped in 18.
“We talked a lot about Long in our practices; we knew he was a good shooter,” Monte Del Sol coach Alfredo Lujan said. “I thought we made a valiant comeback. Our half-court press worked, and we got a few turnovers. We just couldn’t get over the hump.”