ALBUQUERQUE — As often as the Hope Christian bench yelled out Jordan Romero’s name, one might have thought Romero was one of the Huskies.
Not so. Romero was Hope’s target of the moment, or in this case, for 32 minutes.
Hope Christian’s young and talent-deep squad defensed the multi-talented Romero from baseline to baseline and wore down the St. Michael’s Horsemen for a 55-44 win in the boys 3A championship game.
The Huskies (28-3) won their eighth state championship in nine appearances in the championship game. This was their first in 3A, after seven titles in 2A from 1985 through 2006.
St. Michael’s, a school with deep basketball roots and a rich tradition of success, beat Hope Christian in the 2007 title game. The Horsemen own 10 state championships, and under coach Ron Geyer, have won two titles and reached the championship game three times in the last four years.
St. Mike’s finished the 2008-09 season at 23-8.
The Horsemen’s chances for another title rested squarely on Romero’s shoulders and both teams knew it. The Hope Christian coaching staff through the entire game made sure the Huskies had Romero in their sights at all times.
“Where’s Jordan, where’s Jordan,’’ became a constant refrain from the Hope Christian bench.
Romero led the Horsemen with 19 points and added seven rebounds. But the Huskies managed to slow him down enough to pull away in the final minutes of a game that was much closer than the final score would suggest.
“We needed to limit his touches,’’ Hope Christian coach Jim Murphy said of their defensive emphasis on Romero. “He’s had a great high school career and good things happen when you limit the times he touches the ball.’’
Romero didn’t score in the third quarter, but the Horsemen still had battled the taller Huskies to a 29-all standoff heading into the final quarter.
A layup by St. Mike’s Justin Smith gave the Horsemen their final lead (35-33) with just over six minutes remaining. The Huskies, with a sense of urgency that saw them score on all but two of their fourth quarter possessions, ran off 10 straight points for a 43-35 lead with 3:08 left.
The Horsemen had two 3-point shots rim out in that stretch, including one by Romero, who’s only points over the final seven minutes were a 3-pointer with 1:30 left that cut the Huskies’ lead to 45-41.
A free throw by 6-foot-6 freshman Arren Wells and an offensive rebound basket by senior guard Matt Escajeda pushed the lead up to 48-41. Moments later, Romero picked up his fifth foul.
While Romero shot 50 percent from the field, hitting 6-of-12 shots, the rest of the Horsemen hit just 9-of-29 shots. No other St. Michael’s player scored more than six points.
Geyer said the Horsemen knew Romero would be the focus of the Huskies’ defense. “All year long he’s faced gimmick defenses,’’ said Geyer. “We had a lot of opportunities and didn’t finish.’’
Of the Huskies’ fourth-quarter run, Geyer said Hope’s height advantage finally took its toll. “They go 6-6, 6-4, 6-4 and we’re 6-1.’’
Six-foot-four junior center Christian Schlenker led the Huskies with 18 points. Wells added 13 and junior Matt Murphy had seven points and seven rebounds.
Chances are good the Huskies will be back in The Pit next March. The 2008-09 squad had eight juniors and two freshmen.