The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Melrose retains 1A boys crown


March 17, 2019

Christopher Cook

Devon Bailey and Tate Soren celebrate after Melrose captured its second-straight Class 1A title Saturday at The Pit.

ALBUQUERQUE – The Melrose boys basketball team finished a mediocre 4-4 in district play and landed just a No. 5 seed in the Class 1A state tournament.

But Saturday night, the Buffaloes captured their second straight state championship with a 54-50 victory over No. 2-seeded Fort Sumner, their district rival, at the DreamStyle Arena, aka The Pit.

"If you would have told me we'd be in this position this year, I would have told you you were crazy last year," Melrose coach Kevin Lackey said. "We preach peaking at the right time and growing up at the right time. We were starting three sophomores, two juniors. The bench is young. But they also played like seniors in the last month of the season."

Dylan Valentine led Melrose (26-7) with 15 points, while Tate Sorgen added 12 and Tristan Sena 10. Fort Sumner (23-10), led by Jude Segura's 22 points and 12 rebounds, never held a lead and trailed by as many as 11 points midway through the fourth quarter.

The Buffaloes, using their size advantage of 6-foot-4 Sorgen and 6-foot-6 Devon Bailey, enjoyed a 62-45 advantage in rebounds and held Fort Sumner to just 27 percent shooting from the field, including 5-of-35 from behind the 3-point line. Melrose shot 36 percent from the field and went 5-for-11 from the 3-point arc.

Lackey said he instructed his Buffaloes to mix man-to-man, triangle-and-two and 2-3 wide zone defenses to keep the Foxes off-balance.

"Anytime they got comfortable, we'd change it up defensively to give them another look," he said. "Some of their threes were lucky for us in that they didn't go down. Some of those (missed) threes were good defense and well-contested and us talking, communicating and rotating correctly."

Fort Sumner coach Brad Holland said the defensive mixes shouldn't have bothered his team that much.

"We were prepared for what we saw," he said. "We got the shots we wanted. The ball just didn't drop."

Melrose held another big advantage – free throws. The Buffaloes were whistled for just 12 fouls, while the Foxes totaled 24. As a result, Melrose enjoyed a 37-7 advantage in free-throw attempts. What made the game much closer was Melrose converted just 15 of those attempts, barely 40 percent.

"That's been an Achilles' heel," Lackey said. "We shot them really well in the first two games here (at the state tournament). But this environment and this gym will do some crazy stuff to you. We could've made our lives a lot easier."

Holland clearly was unhappy during the game with the foul-shots discrepancy. But during the postgame news conference, he turned somewhat taciturn when asked about the officiating.

"We could've been to the (free-throw) line a little more," he finally said. "When they shoot 30 more free throws than you and you lose by four, I can't put it on the kids. It's hard when you're in the double-bonus so quick. I guess we need to get our hands off a little more."

Both teams started slowly, but Melrose took a 10-4 lead by the end of the first quarter and expanded the advantage to 18-8 midway through the second when Trace Jackson made a 3-pointer.

Sena said their inside players helped create open shots for Melrose's 3-point shooters.

"When we play off our big guys, that's when we're best," he said. "We were shooting our threes when we were driving inside and kicking it back out. Our inside-outside game is so good because we're so balanced."

The Foxes battled back from a 28-19 halftime deficit by pushing the ball more inside. Segura scored on a traditional 3-point play and Jaydell Terrell sank a 3-pointer late in the third quarter to close the gap to 37-36.

Melrose responded with 12-2 run – including a 3-point shot by Valentine – for a 49-38 lead midway through the fourth period.

The closest Fort Sumner came after that was Segura's 3-pointer with 13.5 seconds left to make it 54-50. But the Foxes missed a 3-point attempt and made a turnover during the closing seconds, sparking a dogpile of celebrating Melrose players when the buzzer sounded.

Lackey marveled how his team's highly competitive District 6 in Class 1A – and Fort Sumner – prepared the Buffaloes well for the postseason. Fort Sumner won the first two head-to-head battles 59-57 and 66-61 in January and February, but Melrose won the third matchup 68-64 on March 2.

"They never go away," he said of the Foxes. "They're a good program; they've got good players, great coaches. They're just tough. Every game was a battle. Those games in district are what elevated us to this level and made us better."

Holland agreed with Lackey's assessment of District 6.

"It's the toughest district in the state by far," he said. "They're a good basketball team, with a lot of talent and lot of size. It's a big rivalry; it's a shame we came out on the wrong end of it."


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