HONDO – In the Battle of the Birds, Wednesday night during the District 3-1A boys tournament – it was Hondo that got the upper hand – claw?
But it wasn’t an easy win over Corona. Just ask coach Ben Sanchez.
“If we can get all 10 players going at once, we should be fine,” Sanchez said. “In past years, I didn’t have a bench, now I’ve got 10 kids that can play any spot. We can be a tough team to beat, but we’ve got to play all four quarters.”
Hondo (7-17) was barely able to stay ahead throughout the first three quarters thanks to three-point shots by Tommy Lucero, Kevin Fernandez and Porfirio Romero.
They needed all that to counter Jim Racher, who was a one-man wrecking crew with 23 points – most of them on drives to the basket.
But the Cardinals (8-18) were unable to counter with their own outside shots, and Racher had more than the lions’ share of scoring.
It also didn’t help when Corona kept forcing passes and plays inside, only to see Hondo come up with the ball.
“Just too many turnovers,” said Corona coach Randy Autrey. “We tried too hard on offense, tried to do too much, but the boys played their hearts out.”
Hondo proved to be more of a team when scoring, led by Kevin Fernandez with 15 points, followed by Tommy Lucero with 11.
“I don’t know why we can’t play consistent all four quarters. Sometimes we start off flat,” Fernandez said. “This is the toughest game against Corona we’ve played all season.”
The Eagles weren’t able to truly take control, however, until Sanchez brought in players off the bench, and those players started scoring.
That includes six points by eighth grader Joseph Lucero.
“Sometimes our starters will go and play hard, sometimes I have to look at the bench and see them play harder than our starters,” Sanchez said. “Tonight was that night, when little Joseph came off the bench and had crucial points to put us up.”
Corona’s loss essentially ends their season, but not before showing how cohesive they’ve become as a team.
“We had a good season, had a good group of boys. Just a little disappointing here,” Autrey said. “This is one of the best set of boys I’ve been around.”
For Hondo, the win keeps them alive in the district tournament, and gives them a shot at a district title with a win over Vaughn.
The Eagle showdown is set for 6 p.m., Feb. 23.
Sanchez knows a district title is probably the best bet his team has at getting a State berth – at least one with a favorable seed.
“Against Vaughn, you can’t have a quarter where you score just four or five points. You’ve got to score with Vaughn,” Sanchez said. “Vaughn’s tough, but you really just have to stop two kids and you can win that ball game.
“We have a good chance, but we always fall apart in the fourth quarter,” he added. “We have nothing to lose now, because we can only get voted in to the State tournament with our record.”