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Melrose reaches both title games


March 11, 2020

RIO RANCHO — The Melrose Buffaloes are back in the Class 1A boys state championship game, seeking a third consecutive title.

This time, the Melrose girls hope to join them with their own blue trophy.

Both team advanced in Thursday’s semifinal round at Santa Ana Star Center, the top-seeded boys blowing out Springer 58-27 while the second-seeded girls subdued District 6-1A rival Fort Sumner 48-40.

The boys face Maxwell, a 61-52 winner over Tatum on Thursday, in Saturday’s 6 p.m. finale at The Pit on the University of New Mexico campus in Albuquerque. The teams have met twice this season, with Melrose (28-1) winning 54-38 and 49-41.

They also met in the 2018 1A finals, with Melrose taking a 50-37 verdict. Last year, the Buffs beat Fort Sumner 54-50 for the title.

“It’ll be a tough test,” Melrose boys coach Kevin Lackey said. “They’re really good. There’s little time to prepare, but this run is coming to an end (for the team’s four seniors), so we just want to enjoy the time.”

Meantime, the girls take on another district rival, top-seeded Logan, which beat Pine Hill 51-36 on Friday, in Saturday’s 10 a.m. championship clash at The Pit.

The Lady Buffs (27-4) have finished second at state for three years in a row, losing to Tatum 57-48 in last year’s finale and to Elida 58-44 in 2018 and 49-38 in 2017.

In the boys tilt, Melrose held Springer without a field goal for the first 10 minutes and scored 13 consecutive points for a 15-2 lead. The Buffs extended that to 27-6 at halftime, with senior guard Owen Burton (two field goals, two free throws) the only one to score for the Red Devils.

“The kids were dialed in,” Lackey said. “Defensively, we were lights out. Not so much in the second half, but when you’re already up by 20 or 25 points you can tend to slip a little bit.

“They’re a good team. To hold them to 27 points is pretty good.”

Melrose put together a balanced attack, with eight players scoring. Senior guard Tristan Sena finished with 15 points, while senior guard Dylan Valentine added 10 points and a team-leading eight rebounds.

The Red Devils (23-6) were led by seven points each from senior Gabe Garcia and sophomore Jeremiah Apodaca.

Melrose girls 48, Fort Sumner 40 — The Lady Buffs were in a little trouble against Fort Sumner, but went on a 14-0 run that carried through most of the final quarter to beat the Vixens for the fourth time in four meetings this season.

They will be facing Logan (26-4) for the fifth time. The Lady Longhorns won the first three, including a double-overtime tilt in the EPAC tourney finals, before the Lady Buffs prevailed at Logan in the district tournament championship game.

“We’ve got a chip on our shoulder, that’s for sure,” Melrose girls coach Caleb King said in looking ahead to the finals. “We want to get that one.”

Junior Hailey Martin led Melrose with 20 points — all in the second half and 15 coming in the final period. She had a couple of three-point plays during the run to help the Lady Buffs gain control.

Meantime, senior Nataley Mondragon finished with 17 points, with all but two of hers coming in the opening two stanzas to keep Melrose close.

Fort Sumner (21-10) spent just over 24 minutes in the lead, while the Lady Buffs led for just under 3 1/2 minutes. Sophomore Jordan Wilton led the Vixens with eight points, including two of the team’s seven 3-point baskets.

“Fort Sumner played a heck of a first half,” King said. “They made a lot of shots, but we finally got it going.

“We started to press in the third quarter, and they had a hard time handling the ball. We missed a bunch of easy shots early in the game. It was kind of the same way we played against To’hajiilee (in a quarterfinal win).”

Melrose converted just 4-of-14 field goals in the fourth period, but held the Vixens to just two baskets in nine tries — including a 3-pointer that finally ended the run with three seconds left. The Lady Buffs were 8-for-10 from the foul line in the stanza, while Fort Sumner went 0-of-3.


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