Serving the High Plains

NMMI blasts Tucumcari in district semis

The third-seeded Tucumcari boys basketball team struggled to get anything going offensively and were ousted from the district tournament in a 62-37 loss Thursday at second-seeded New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell.

The Rattlers trailed 14-7 after the first quarter and 32-17 at intermission.

"I'm not sure what happened," THS coach Gary Hittson said. "It was not the same team that played Dexter on Wednesday night. They just got in our face, played good defense and out-physicaled us."

Luis Archuleta scored 18 points to lead the Rattlers. Kamren Apodaca added 11 points.

NMMI improved to 15-10 overall and advanced to the district tournament title game against top-seeded Ruidoso.

Ruidoso, which also won the regular-season district title, conquered NMMI 54-35 in the district tournament final on Saturday.

Tucumcari finished the year with a 9-15 record. It just missed qualifying for the Class 3A playoffs, finishing with a No. 17 ranking in MaxPreps.com, one of the major criteria for gaining a postseason berth.

Hittson said the season was an up-and-down one, which probably reflected his team's youth. Tucumcari had no seniors on its squad.

"Just before Christmas, we were starting to roll and get going," he said. "And then we didn't play a game for over a month. I think that kinda hurt us.

"Then we had injuries, where Daymion (Urioste) and Eric (Acosta) were hurt for a while. Then, in the last three weeks, the flu has hurt us. We were really, really sick."

Hittson, an assistant coach with the program last season, was elevated to head coach temporarily after longtime head coach John Span decided to sit out a season following major cancer surgery in August. Hittson essentially took over the program the last half of the 2022-2023 season after Span was diagnosed with his illness.

Hittson said next season's team looks promising.

"They've had a whole year of playing varsity ball, and they gained a lot of confidence," he said. "They were kind of down, but they know they can do it."

Hittson said his players also unexpectedly found other motivation shortly after Thursday's loss to NMMI. The team stayed to watch NMMI's junior college team play Clarendon College, which possesses one of the best guards in the country in Dior Johnson.

"He really put on a show," Hittson said. "And I was really surprised ... the kids watched him and said, 'I've got to get in the gym; I've got to get in the weight room.' This guy would drive to the basket, get pushed and would go up and make the shot.

"That kind of hurt us this year because we're not physically strong yet. But the kids watched him and said, 'We need to be able to take contact.' So maybe that helps a little bit."

Tucumcari 53, Dexter 46

Tucumcari wasn't at its best, but its defense was more than good enough to secure a 56-43 home victory Wednesday over Dexter in the first round of the district tournament.

The Rattlers allowed the Demons just one field goal in the second quarter as THS stormed to a 24-10 lead at intermission. Dexter never drew closer than nine points the rest of the way.

Daymion Urioste led a balanced Tucumcari attack with 18 points, while Jordan Rincones added 12. Archuleta scored 10 points, and Apodaca totaled 10 points, 19 rebounds and three blocked shots.

CJ Granados led the Demons with 20 points. Dexter fell to 9-18.

"Outside of him, we didn't have anybody who could score a whole lot - especially in the first half, when we scored only 10 points," Dexter coach Adam Herrera said.

Tucumcari led 10-7 after the first quarter. Rincones scored 10 points in the first half to help power his team to a 14-point halftime lead.

The Demons never went away in the second half partly because of 19 Tucumcari turnovers - many of them unforced.

Hittson also detected a loss of intensity from his team during the second half.

"We need to learn to put people away when we have a lead. We get a lead, and then we relax, let them back in and then it's a dogfight," he said.

The Demons reduced the gap to 41-32 in the fourth quarter.

The dagger for the Demons' chances came with 1:34 left when Herrera was whistled for a technical foul for protesting the lack of a traveling violation against Tucumcari.

"I didn't say anything rude or disrespectful," Herrera said later.

Archuleta made both technical free throws to give Tucumcari a 55-43 lead, and the Rattlers retained possession of the ball.

The game was postponed a day because of severe winds and dust storms south of Tucumcari on Tuesday that reduced visibility to near-zero and led to dangerous driving conditions.

Herrera said the dust led to an accident that day where several Dexter students were injured.

"I know some people in Tucumcari thought we didn't want to come up here, but that's not the truth," he said.

The dust contributed to a seven-car pileup on U.S. 285 in Roswell that killed a local man and injured others.

According to data from a National Weather Service station at Tucumcari Municipal Airport, sustained winds of more than 40 mph, plus two 70-mph gusts, occurred Tuesday.

 
 
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