By Dave Wagner
The Texico and Hope Christian boys basketball teams are separated by more than 250 miles, but they’ve become well-acquainted in recent years.
Winners of the last three and four of the past five Class 2A state titles, they’ll meet in postseason play for the fifth time in six seasons in an 8 p.m. 2A state quarterfinal clash today at Albuquerque’s Cibola High School.
The winner meets the winner of a 4:30 p.m. clash at Cibola between Tularosa and Loving in a semifinal game on Thursday at Cibola. In the other bracket, with games today at West Mesa High School, Dexter plays Rehoboth at 4:30 p.m. and Clayton takes on Coronado at 8 p.m.
Hope beat Texico in the state semifinals en route to the 2A title in 1999, while Texico returned the favor in the quarterfinals on its way to the 2001 crown.
Hope back-to-back title in 2002 and 2003, eliminating the Wolverines at home in the regional semifinals both times — including a one-point verdict two years ago that kept alive an unbeaten season.
“We know they have a real good program,” said Hope Christian coach Jim Murphy, in his 21st season at the Albuquerque school. “It’ll be a real competitive match.”
The Huskies have put together a 28-1 season and go into the state tournament as the favorites despite losing four starters to graduation. And the fifth starter, senior point guard Nate Little, now comes off the bench.
“We’ve had a real good season,” said Murphy, who has won five state titles in his time as Huskies coach. “With all the seniors we lost, I’m real pleased with how we’ve done this year.”
Texico coach Richard Luscombe thinks the Wolverines’ recent experience against Hope could help his squad this year.
“Last year, and probably the year before, it was pretty hard to convince the kids that we had a shot (to beat Hope),” he said. “This year I think we’ve got a good shot at it.
“The thing they (Huskies) don’t have this year is a lot of kids who’ve (played) at the state tournament that much.”
Collin Byrd, a 6-foot-2 junior forward, and Adan Herrera, a 6-0 senior guard, lead a balanced Huskies scoring attack. Their top rebounders are 6-3 freshman Zach Spangler and 6-2 sophomore Caleb Koch, both averaging just over nine boards a game.
While they may not be as experienced, Hope has drawn from a junior varsity squad that went undefeated last season.
“This year we’ve been really balanced,” Murphy said. “I think that’s what’s made us a little harder to scout.”
Murphy takes a cautious approach to his team’s role of favorite.
“I don’t know if that’s always a good position to be in,” he said. “Everyone wants to knock off the reigning state champs.”
Texico (22-7) vs. Hope Christian (28-1), 8 p.m.
Last state appearances: Texico, 2001, won 2A state title. Hope Christian, 2003, won second consecutive 2A state title.
How they got here: Texico finished second to host Clayton in Region B tournament. Hope Christian won Region D tournament at Hope Christian.
Coaches: Texico, Richard Luscombe, 15th year; Hope Christian, Jim Murphy, 21st.
Players to watch: Texico, Braden Vaughan, 6-2, Jr., P (17 ppg, 12 rpg); Bryce Bailey, 6-2, Sr., P (12 ppg, 11 rpg); Johnny Rivera, 5-8, Sr., G (12 ppg, 4 apg). Hope Christian, Collin Byrd, 6-2, Jr., F (13.3 ppg); Adan Herrera, 6-0, Sr., G (12 ppg).
Did you know? Hope Christian has lost just two games over the last three seasons — last year against Pecos and this year against District 4-2A rival Sandia Prep.
By the numbers: The Huskies, who defeated Texico in regional semifinal contests at Hope in each of the last two seasons, have played — and beaten — three of this year’s 2A state qualifiers in Coronado, Clayton and Tularosa.
Quotable: “They like shooting the 3 a lot. They don’t mind shooting from anywhere, to tell you the truth.” — Texico coach Richard Luscombe on Hope Christian.