By Thomas Garcia
QCS Senior Writer
The No. 4 seed Tucumcari Rattlers have advanced to Saturday’s 3A state basketball championship against the No. 2 Texico Wolverines at the Wisepies Arena (The Pit) at the University Of New Mexico at Albuquerque.
“The Wolverines are a very good team that shoots the ball well,” said John Span, Rattlers head coach.
Span said the Wolverines are a well-coached and play well as a team. He said that playing as a team is exactly what the Rattlers must do on Saturday.
Saturday’s championship game will be the second time in five years the Rattlers have competed for the 3A title. They lost the title in 2011 by a score of 69-42 to Mesilla Valley Christian School.
The Rattlers have meet the Wolverines only once prior to the state tournament this season, losing 62-51 on Dec. 8 at Texico.
Span said the Rattlers will need to take care of the ball and be aggressive on the rebounds. He said Texico has always been an aggressive team when securing the rebound.
Span’s focusing on rebounds echoes from Thursday nights, 79-66 win over the No. 1 seed Lordsburg Mavericks at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
In the semifinal game against the Mavericks, the Rattlers struggled with rebounds, allowing second chance shots for the Mavericks. The second-chance shots combined with turnovers by the Rattlers allowed the Mavericks to cut 10-point leads in the second and third periods down to single digits.
“We have to take care of the ball, that is a fact,” said Tyler Ferguson, Rattlers shooting guard.
Ferguson, who scored 12 points against the Mavericks, said rebounds and turnovers allowed Lordsburg to rally twice in the semifinal game. He said it is important that the entire team work to box out for the rebounds and not just leave it to a one or a two people under the basket.
“We all have work to secure the rebound and everyone needs to take care of the ball,” Ferguson said.
Leading the Rattlers against Lordsburg on offense was shooting guard John Paul Garcia, who scored 34 points.
Garcia played the entire game against the Mavericks, which was not the case during Wednesday’s 65-63 quarterfinal win over the Santa Rosa Lions.
Garcia had to sit early in the quarterfinals match up due to foul trouble. The Rattlers had trailed throughout most of the game and the Lions held a nine-point lead midway through the third period.
The Rattlers overcame that lead and dropped it to single digits by making free throws. Garcia made seven of eight foul shots in the final period. The final free throw would once again fall on Ferguson.
There were 18 second left in the quarterfinals game when Ferguson stepped to the foul line. The Rattlers led 64-63 and both shots would ensure a tie in the event of a desperation 3-pointer being made by the Lions.
However, Ferguson missed the first shot.
“After the first miss I just had to gather myself and say, ‘You’ve got this Tyler,’” Ferguson said.
Ferguson said he stepped to the line and knew that the final free throw was important.
“I’ve stressed the importance of making free throws all season long to the team,” Span said.
Span said that fact has never been more true than in the games against the Lions this year.
This was the second time that Ferguson’s shot from the free throw line in the closing minutes of game with the Lions would play such a key role.
On Feb. 27, during the District 5 3A championship, Ferguson made two free throws and gave the Rattlers a four-point lead with only 8 seconds remaining in the game.
The Rattlers went on the win that game, 75-73. The past three victory over the Lions were by a margin of three points or fewer.
Game time: 10 a.m., Saturday against Texico at the Wisepies Arena at the University Of New Mexico at Albuquerque.