Rattlers return to state

By Kevin Wilson: Quay County Sun

SANTA ROSA — The question was nearly enough to make Andrez Apodaca spit out his post-game fruit drink.

How did Apodaca feel knowing the last time a Tucumcari boys team reached the state basketball tournament in March of 1990, he was still four months away from being born?

The Rattler guard needed only a few seconds to regain his composure, but needed more time to put it into words.

“It’s crazy,” said Apodaca, who scored seven points in Tucumcari’s 58-39 victory over Eunice on Friday in the Class 1A Region C semifinals. “It hasn’t hit me yet, but when it does I’ll be pretty shocked.”

For many others, the shock was gone after the game’s first five minutes, which saw the Rattlers (18-11) jump out to a 12-2 lead they would never relinquish en route to earning one of Class 2A’s eight state tournament slots.

Drew White and Nathan McDonald each had 17 to lead Tucumcari.

The Rattlers led by as much as 20 and were never seriously challenged in the last 10 minutes of what was technically a neutral-site game with District 7-2A champ Eunice (13-14) as the home team at the Lion Den.

The Lion Den will play host to the 7 p.m. championship tonight between the Rattlers and tournament host Santa Rosa. The Lions (22-6) defeated Dexter 45-39 in Friday’s other semifinal.

Cardinal coach Gary Frazier knew the Rattlers would be tough, considering the smaller amount of travel and the respective records.

“We knew going in it was going to be extremely difficult for us,” Frazier said. “We battled and battled and battled … got an opportunity before halftime and let that get away.”

The Cardinals cut it to 25-22 early in the second half on a Luis Garcia layup, but a 3-point play by White keyed a 12-3 run to close out the third quarter. Another 3-point play, this time by Jeremy Lopez, ended the third quarter with a 37-25 advantage for the Rattlers. Eunice never got within single digits after that point.

Tucumcari coach John Span said the early run wasn’t in the game plan for the Rattlers, but it did make the Cardinals reliant on the 3-point shot throughout much of the second half.

Garcia led the Cardinals with 17, but only scored three points in the final 10 minutes as the Rattlers could afford to key on him defensively.

“In the first half, No. 5 (Garcia) was hitting some pretty big 3s,” Apodaca said, “but in the second half he didn’t hit them.”

Nobody else scored more than six for the Cardinals, who graduate six players from their roster.

“They’ve got a good team,” Frazier said. “They’ve got big guys inside and good guards to go with them. They’re a difficult matchup for anybody.”

Tonight’s championship game is simply a matter of pride. Span said Santa Rosa jumped out to a 10-1 lead in last weekend’s District 6-2A title game, and ended up winning by a nine-point margin. He and the Rattlers hope for different results tonight.

“The beginning of the game was the difference,” Span said. “If we come out and play from the start, I think we’ll be OK.”