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Melrose rolls to 1A title

Top-seeded Melrose pulls away late for 50-37 victory over Maxwell at The Pit.

 

March 11, 2018

Christopher Cook

Melrose players raise the Class 1A state trophy in celebration after beating Maxwell in Saturday's championship at The Pit in Albuquerque. Top-seeded Melrose ended the season on a 14-game winning streak.

ALBUQUERQUE — This wasn't your garden variety Melrose boys basketball game. But then, it wasn't your garden variety boys basketball game, period.

The Buffaloes, used to big leads and comfortable victories, faced a war with Maxwell in Saturday morning's Class A state championship game at Albuquerque's Dreamstyle Arena, competition and setting befitting the stakes. A Melrose team more accustomed to cruising, saw itself down by a bunch in the first few minutes of Saturday's game, and never led at any point in the first quarter.

But the top-seeded Buffaloes found their way to victory just the same, finally pulling ahead in the second quarter and finally pulling away late in the fourth, as they beat second-seeded Maxwell 50-37 to claim a state championship.

"It's unbelievable, it's a dream come true," Melrose senior post Jordan Jasso said after scoring a game-high 19.

"It's more of a relief to me," Buffaloes senior forward Blake DeVaney said. "All those hours in the gym, all those countless tournaments as a little kid, AAU ball and everything, have just been boiling up to this."

"I'm kind of speechless. I just wanted to get this one for my brother," Melrose sophomore guard Tristan Sena said of his sibling and senior teammate Sterling Sena.

Buffaloes head coach Kevin Lackey has been to state title games with Dora, but never with Melrose before Saturday. For him, it was rewarding to shepherd the Buffaloes to the summit, especially against the program that had ousted them in the state semifinals last year.

"I think that drove them a little bit," said Lackey, who took over this season after Jim Doherty retired. "(Friday) night, I set 'em down and I made 'em a little mad. We watched the last five minutes of that game from last year, and it wasn't pretty. And I think that kind of set the tone, and these guys had the focus, the desire. And these guys were ready to go today, and they were ready for everything that was thrown at 'em. We knew it was going to be a grind, we knew it was going to be a battle."

The battle was on early, but Melrose was losing it. A three by Carl Gonzales on Maxwell's opening possession and another trey from Jeremy Archuleta gave the Bears a quick 6-0 lead. Lackey called a timeout just 1:40 into the game to settle his team down.

"We got out of position a couple of times from what we wanted to do," Lackey said. "I think the adrenaline was getting to us a little bit ... and we gave them some easier threes than I wanted. And we just talked about staying the course."

"We were kind of expecting them to come out strong," Jasso said. "We just had to keep our composure."

Melrose, though, continued to struggle right after the timeout. On their ensuing possession, the Buffaloes had trouble with Maxwell's interior defense and couldn't score. Back the other way, Kolten Riggs hit a short turnaround jumper that put the Bears up 8-0.

It took Melrose all the way to the 4:37 mark of the first quarter to score its first points of the morning, finally coming from Jasso inside. That basket was the start of a 7-0 run that also included a three-pointer from DeVaney and a putback from Jasso, but the Buffaloes were still behind by a point.

They soon found themselves trailing 11-7 on a Wesley Jeffery trey, yet forged the game's first tie by quarter's end on consecutive Hunter Sorgen baskets.

The second quarter was even more defense-dominated than the first. Archuleta put Maxwell back up with a free throw early in the quarter, and the 12-11 score held all the way to the period's 3:59 mark, when a Jasso follow-up gave Melrose its first lead of the day.

The lead changed hands twice more in the half, and the game was also tied twice more before the break. The second of those ties was snapped when Jasso nailed a three in the second quarter's final minute, giving his team a 19-16 lead by halftime.

The Buffaloes gained some separation in the third, but it wasn't easy. Melrose did tally the first points of the new half, but needed five attempts on the same possession to get it done, with DeVaney finally scoring to make it 21-16.

A tough inside basket by DeVaney through defensive traffic stretched Melrose's lead to seven, but the Buffs could never expand the margin much throughout most of the game's remainder.

At one point late in the third, DeVaney's top-of-the-key three made it seven again (31-24), but Gonzales answered with a trey of his own, shaving the difference to four.

Christopher Cook

Melrose senior Jordan Jasso rejects the shot attempt from Maxwell's Kolten Riggs in Saturday's Class 1A state championship. Jasso had 19 points and eight rebounds in the 50-37 victory.

Though the Buffaloes took a 35-27 lead into the fourth, it was only a 40-35 advantage midway through that period, and the Bears threatened to make it less after Archuleta grabbed a defensive board. A three-point attempt on the other end by Maxwell's Gabriel Pena wouldn't go, however, and Jasso answered with an inside basket that began a 10-0 run, salting the game and the blue trophy away for Melrose. A DeVaney putback, four free throws from Sterling Sena and two from Tristan Sena were the run's other eight points that helped finish the game with a wallop.

"We knew it was going to be a battle," Maxwell head coach Eloy Brazil said. "I think we're a very good three-point shooting team, and they took that away from us."

As a result of that sturdy defense and timely offense, Melrose earned a state championship trophy that will make a nice box set with the one most of the basketball players earned as members of Dickie Roybal's last football team in the fall.

"It's all a credit to these guys," Lackey said. "They worked their tails off."

 

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