Stampede ends Melrose EPAC drought


January 15, 2020

Kevin Wilson

Melrose forward Tate Sorgen goes up for a jumper in the first half of Saturday's Eastern Plains Athletic Conference championship at Greyhound Arena. The Buffaloes topped Logan 66-37 to claim their first EPAC championship since 1993.

PORTALES — Any night that ends with a big trophy, a plaque and medals is a pretty good night.

Saturday night ended with all of the above hardware for the Melrose boys basketball team after a 66-37 rout of Tatum in the Eastern Plains Athletic Conference tournament championship game at Greyhound Arena. The blowout and the awards resulting from it signified the Buffaloes’ first EPAC title since 1993.

A close game for most of the first quarter but a double-digit affair from late first quarter until game’s end – and a no-doubter for much of that time – was how Melrose ended its first run to EPAC glory in 27 years.

“That’s a long haul to get to this one,” Melrose head coach Kevin Lackey said. “So I’m just proud that we won it. We’re building.”

“It’s pretty big,” Melrose senior Dylan Valentine said after scoring a game-high 16 points Saturday night. “It’s big coming down here and being able to come out on top.”

Saturday’s tournament capper occurred about 30 hours after Melrose had routed Elida 67-24 in Friday afternoon’s semifinal.

“I thought these last two games we played incredibly well,” Lackey said. “Defensively we really locked down two good teams that are explosive. … So I’m really proud of the effort and the focus; it just means that we’re good, but we’ve still got a long way to go to get to where we want to.”

Where the Buffaloes want to go, the pinnacle they want to reach, is winning a third consecutive state Class A championship in Albuquerque two months from now. Judging from how they dominated small-school competition in the EPAC tournament, the Buffs seem to be a contender for that third straight blue trophy.

Saturday’s championship game was 8-5 Melrose well into the first quarter, then 12-7 Buffaloes later in the period. But Melrose closed that first quarter with six straight points, striding in double-digit territory as the second period began.

The 6-0 run became 13-0 in the second quarter, because of two free throws from Devon Bailey, a one-handed basket from Tate Sorgen, and a trey from Valentine, all of which made it a 25-7 game.

By halftime Tatum had whittled down the margin a little bit, trailing 30-17.

But then came a dominant third quarter for the Buffaloes, who outscored the Coyotes 28-5 during that period. Tatum had chances to cut into the 30-17 difference early in the third, missed them, and then Melrose took over. A Bailey putback, a Sorgen inside basket (which included a pump fake), two jumpers from Tristan Sena, and another pump-fake basket from Sorgen, increased the Buffaloes’ lead to 40-17.

Finally, three minutes and 20 seconds into the third quarter, a jumper by Tatum’s Sebastian Jimenez gave the Coyotes their first points of the new half. But Melrose then went right back it, scoring 18 straight that pushed the margin to 39.

The Buffaloes were cruising like a machine working at its best.

“We trust each other, we move the ball well,” Valentine said. “We’re all about teamwork.”

Tatum’s Mason Brown scored the third quarter’s last three points with a basket and foul shot, and the Coyotes did score the first 11 points of the fourth quarter, but the contest was already far, far out of reach. Even after the 14-0 run, Tatum still faced a 58-33 late-game deficit.

It wasn’t long before Melrose eighth-grader Michael Cardonita dribbled out the final seconds on the Buffaloes’ first EPAC championship since Bill Clinton’s first year in the White House.

“It’s a good thing for our school,” Lackey said of the long-elusive title.

For Tatum, runner-up status was something to be proud of, especially in such a tough EPAC tournament field.

“I’ve been back in Tatum for six years, and I think it’s the deepest one I’ve been in,” Coyotes head coach Royce Brown said. “I had no problem with our ranking being eighth; I think the top eight were legitimate.”

And so, it was a good test, a tough test, that could serve the Coyotes well down the road.

“When you’re looking into district, just realizing that you’ve got to show up every night with that intensity and that effort,” Brown said, “and play through good, bad, whatever it is.”

In Saturday’s early boys matchups:

Texico 87, Dora 41 — Senior Luke Phipps led five players in double figures with 21 points and the Wolverines (8-4) finished off the game with a 23-5 fourth-quarter run.

Freshman Jahvon Askew added 16 points, including Texico’s first eight of the game, while junior David Davalos had 14, senior Manuel Loera 13 and junior Gabriel Bailey 11.

Sophomore Cache Skelley topped the Coyotes (6-6) with 20 points, including three 3-point baskets.

Fort Sumner 66, Grady 58 — The Foxes (7-7) erased a six-point halftime deficit with a 25-point third quarter to claim fifth place in the tournament. Junior Chance Drake tallied 11 of his 19 points in the third stanza for Fort Sumner, while senior Kane Burney knocked down a trio of first-quarter 3s en route to 15 points.

Junior Isaiah Mitchell paced four players in double digits for the Bronchos (6-6) with 19 points. Sophomore Dustin Bryant and junior Chad Beccera scored 13 each, and senior Chisum Rush tallied 11.


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