Eastern New Mexico’s year in sports was one of close calls. And more than a few not-so-close ones.
From state basketball tournament squeakers to football blowouts, local teams saw it all.
Leading the way for area high school teams was Texico and Fort Sumner with three titles in 2009.
The basketball season brought plenty of excitement, including Fort Sumner’s first boys state basketball title.
The Foxes’ rollercoaster state tournament ride ended with a 67-66 victory over Springer in the Class 1A basketball championship.
The Foxes came into the state tournament with a basketball history that was a polar opposite of the football team’s stranglehold on blue trophies. The gridiron Foxes have won nine championships since 1995, while the basketball team had only won a single state tournament game since 1980.
The Foxes knocked off three of Class 1A’s top four seeds, and needed a late miss for the state title. The Foxes led Springer 67-64 in the closing seconds on a fast break layup by Barrett Williamson, only in the lineup because senior Berry Stinnett had fouled out after scoring a team-high 22 points.
Williamson ended up in another key play, as he was called for the foul on Jesus Urquijo’s desperation 3-point attempt. Urquijo hit the first two, but the third rimmed out and the Foxes stormed the court in celebration.
“I was saying, ‘I hope he misses one,’” Fort Sumner coach John Wooton said, “because I don’t think we can survive overtime.”
They weren’t the only school with some luck on the hardwood.
Texico had a semifinal rematch with Mesilla Valley, who the Wolverines defeated for the 2008 title. The Son Blazers started matters with an 8-0 run and an 11-point lead with 4:27 to play. But Mesilla Valley missed key free throws, and with six seconds to play Seth Bailey rebounded a missed free throw and fired an outlet to a streaking Jose Posada.
The sophomore guard’s 3-point attempt banked in as time expired, and Texico ended the game with its only lead, 58-57.
“He’s 1-for-4 in the first 31:50,” Mesilla Valley coach Terry Adler said. “He banked it in, he’s got a wrist brace on. That’s the shot we want.”
The Wolverines survived a late comeback from Santa Rosa the next morning, winning 48-46 for their second-straight 2A title and an 8-1 record in games decided by five or less.
“These kids are used to winning,” Texico coach Richard Luscombe said. “I think the biggest deal is, they don’t believe they’re going to get beat.”
Basketball, however, was just the setup for what would be a dominant track season from eastern New Mexico — albeit a season ended with delays amid fears of the H1N1 flu virus.
The small school meet — Classes 1A and 2A — were moved from their original start date to the middle of the following week due to the closure of some schools across the state. Officials with the New Mexico Activities Association said the delay was made because it wasn’t fair to let teams who could practice compete against teams who couldn’t.
The Texico girls needed every point they could get, and edged Estancia for the Class 2A track title with a fifth-place relay finish. Texico won only two events, but scored in enough events to beat Estancia 40-39.5.
It wasn’t nearly as close for the Clovis girls, or either of Fort Sumner’s squads. The Lady Wildcats won their third 5A title in four years behind a 4-for-4 relay effort and finished with 87 points, well ahead of Eldorado.
“I’m still shocked,” senior Lainey Flatow after the meet ended, though Clovis had clinched it hours before the final relay. “Coming in, we were worried about Rio Rancho, and then we came out with that many points.”
The Vixens were even more dominant, as 14 of the 15 athletes came home with medals and the squad was 99 points ahead of the rest of the field.
“It was such a great team,” coach Lisa McMath said. “They just produced and stepped up to the plate.”
The Foxes did as well, as Stinnett, Skylar McMath and Williamson combined for 34 individual points — almost half of a 79 1/2-point effort for the win over Carrizozo.
Clovis Christian finished third in the girls and boys meets — a big accomplishment, coach Jason Swann said, for a school whose track programs boasted four athletes in 2004.
The football season produced one state champion, in the wake of a 2008 when Muleshoe, Portales, Fort Sumner, Texico and Melrose claimed trophies.
Only Melrose repeated, dominating teams en route to their second-straight eight-man title. The Buffaloes never had a game closer than 44 points while running their win streak to 26 games.
Buffs senior quarterback and linebacker Clint Barnard was named the state’s offensive and defensive player of the year.
“Clint is probably, by far, the best eight-man player in the state — and would probably be the best 11-man player in Class 1A,” Melrose coach Dickie Roybal said the week before the team’s 64-14 title win at Tatum. “We’ve also got Sammy Lawrence, who can play with anybody; that kid’s just a beast.”
Texico’s volleyball team gave the school one more state championship at the end of November. Unchallenged most of the season, Texico swept through the Class 2A tournament for its fourth consecutive volleyball championship.
“It’s unbelievable,” said senior Katlin Luscombe, who played on all four title winners. “Most people don’t ever get to the state tournament all through high school. It’s really amazing and it’s nice to go out that way.”
• Notable runnersup included Fort Sumner in volleyball, Portales in volleyball and girls basketball, and Texico in baseball.
• In pro sports news, Hank Baskett was released in his third season with the Philadelphia Eagles so Michael Vick could be added to the active roster. But Baskett saw the field before Vick did, as he soon signed with the Indianapolis Colts and is mostly doing special teams duty for a Super Bowl favorite.
• In coaching changes, Eastern New Mexico University has a new men’s basketball coach in Andrew Helton and a new softball coach in Lauren Sigwing. There’s a new volleyball coach, Mike Maguire, who three years ago was the old volleyball coach.
Former Clovis girls coach Miles Watters, winner of 12 girls basketball titles in New Mexico, now patrols the sidelines in Farwell.
Another coaching position is unresolved, as ninth-year Clovis coach J.D. Isler is currently appealing a year-long suspension for accusations of recruiting. Isler is still coaching the Wildcat boys, and claimed his 500th career victory Dec. 28 against Los Lunas.