CAPITAN – An avalanche of fouls led to the Capitan boys’ loss to Eunice in their District 4-3A showdown, Feb. 3.
Even with all the fouls, the Tigers were still almost able to pull off the victory before falling 59-53.
“We put ourselves in a position where we could win, but ultimately, down the stretch, Eunice fought through their game and they executed,” said Capitan coach Justin Foust. “We went into a shell and forgot what got us to that point.”
This one was close the entire way through, with the Tigers (6-12, 0-4 district) leading almost the entire way. Capitan was up 21-19 at the half, but a would-be buzzer-beating shot that fell short is the only thing that kept the Cardinals (11-8, 2-2) from being ahead at that point.
After three quarters, the Tigers were still up by just two points, and a three-pointer by Jacob Smith was pretty much the only difference in the game.
Then the fouls started mounting up.
After Capitan center Shane Barnwell fouled out with 4:39 left in the game to negate any size advantage the Tigers might have had, but the Tigers still led 46-45 despite having eight fouls to Eunice’s one.
“I would say we beat beat ourselves, because we had chances. We had good solid box-outs,” Foust said. “But whether they were more athletic or benefitted from non-calls, we missed double-digits in second-chance points in that fourth quarter alone.”
The lead changed hands quite a bit, starting with a 47-46 lead by Eunice after Brendan Usery couldn’t sink a free throw.
Usery made up for it 30 seconds later with a layup off a feed from Jacob Smith to give the Tigers a 48-47 advantage with 2:14 left, but then Price Bowen fouled out at 1:57 after he had stolen and given away the ball in the space of five seconds.
After the Cardinal free throws made it 49-48 Eunice, Usery again came up with a big layup and was fouled, but he missed the free throw and Capitan fouled on the rebound.
Both Cardinal penalty shots were good for the 51-50 lead with 1:43 left, Eunice stole the ball and another Tiger foul meant more Cardinal free throws.
Smith’s three-pointer with 1:11 left represented both the last Capitan score and the last time the Tigers led at 53-52. After that, it was a familiar routine of Capitan fouls, missed Cardinal free throws and missed opportunities that kept the game close.
It wasn’t until Eunice had the ball with a 54-53 lead at 23 seconds left that this game finally seemed in hand.
The Cardinals nursed their one-point lead by playing keepaway and forcing Capitan to foul and stop the clock. This time Eunice was making its shots to pull away just enough to win.
Domingo Montes stepped up with 19 points to lead the Tigers in the loss, while Usery had 13. Avante Stevens put in a game-high 23 points for Eunice.
While it was a frustrating loss, it still showed that Capitan isn’t a pushover, even in a district as tough as this one.
“In a good hard-fought game like that, someone has to win, someone has to lose,” Foust said. “Hopefully, when we go to their place, we can flip the switch.”
Sure, the Eunice girls team was Class 3A runner-ups to Tohatchi in last year’s State playoffs, and the Cardinals were heavy favorites coming into Saturday’s game.
But not many people – Capitan coach Sean Wootten included – may have expected the 57-20 shellacking the Tigers got.
“We didn’t play well offensively to start, we were slow out of the gate,” Wootten said. “We looked like we were exhausted. All the little things we normally do to make us competitive were not present in the first half of the game.”
Eunice (16-3, 4-0) had an aggressive defense that led to a lot of Tiger bodies sprawled on the floor, but didn’t equate to a lot of Cardinal fouls. Wootten was so upset early he got a technical in the first quarter.
By that point, Eunice was up 13-1 – Kylie Pruett had her team’s only point on a free throw – and the Cardinals never looked back.
Harria Mendoza had 18 points to lead the Cardinals, while Jada Jones added 10.
No Tiger was in double figures. Pruett led Capitan (7-11, 0-4) with six points.
“We let too many things get into our mind and we didn’t play our game,” Wootten said. “We thought through things a little too much instead of letting our athleticism come out.”