A pair of Rattler defenders collapse on a pass to NMMI’s Hector Soto, forcing an Institute turnover. (Photo courtesy of Shutternut)
Peter Dindinger – NMMI Sports Press
No team can be taken lightly in the district tournament, no matter their record.
The way District 4-3A had gone this season, any team can upset the other.
It was another classic battle between the New Mexico Military Institute Colts and Tucumcari Rattlers (9-16) on Thursday evening during the District 4-3A semifinal.
The Colts did just enough to come away with a 63-54 win at the Godfrey Athletic Center.
Now NMMI (14-7) must take on Tularosa for the fourth time this season in the district tourney championship, on the road at 6 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s always close between us two,” said NMMI head coach Connor Williamson about playing Tucumcari. “It’s good to survive this one. Second half was a lot better for us from all standpoints.
“We spread the ball better and it showed. We have to work on defense, for sure. It was good enough to win, but we’re gonna have to be better.”
NMMI jumped out to a 6-2 lead early in the opening quarter after Andres Bleizeffer and Hector Soto made a pair of three-pointers.
The Rattlers had five turnovers in the first quarter which allowed the Colts to increase their lead to eight at one point.
Jesus Ramos did the majority of the scoring for Tucumcari as he finished with 21 points, nine rebounds, six assists and six steals.
NMMI got a much-needed spark on offense from Clay Stroh who knocked down a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the fourth quarter. The second shot helped extend the Colts lead to 11 points.
Tucumcari finished with 22 turnovers and NMMI outrebounded the Rattlers, 30-25.
The Colts had another well-distributed game offensively. Daniel Xibille and Bleizeffer each had 15 points. Xibille dished out four assists and grabbed six boards.
Bleizeffer grabbed seven rebounds and had four steals before fouling out early in the final stanza.
Stroh had a breakout game, tallying a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Ricardo Mata had a team-high five assists while scoring seven points.
NMMI made six 3-pointers in the contest, matching Tucumcari’s mark behind the arc. The Colts shot 15 of 20 from the free throw line.
The Colts made an appearance in the district championship game last season, losing to Dexter by two points.
This year the team feels confident they can finish strong and capture the tourney title.
“It wasn’t just me that was doing stuff,” Stroh said. “We had everybody working together and it just feels really good to win this game and go on to the district championship.
“I think we have a lot of motivation to go into Tularosa and really get this win. We’ll be going to their house, it’s going to be a hostile environment. We’ve just got to buckle down on defense.”