This story was updated March 1, 2018 at 12 p.m.
The temperature was hot. Otero Gymnasium was buzzing. No seats were empty.
But this time, fans were able to keep their fingernails as the Taos Tigers won easily and claimed the District 2-4A championship title with the 73-59 final over the visiting St. Michael's Horsemen Feb. 24. No double overtime was necessary in this contest, and no late-game heroics defined this particular victory for Taos. It was, simply put, a straightforward win for a Tiger team hitting on all five cylinders at the right time.
"I can't really say we've peaked," said Coach Nando Chavez said in post-game remarks. "But we certainly have gotten better throughout the year. And I think we can continue to learn and get better still."
Chavez was named District 2-4A "Coach of the Year" for his meteoric rise from the bottom of the district rankings last year to first place in both the regular season standings and the district tournament this year. Chavez was tapped to take over an embattled boys basketball program that struggled against district opponents for the past two years, winning only one league game over the course of two seasons.
Emerging from district play with a 7-1 record, Taos was afforded a "bye" to the championship game in the ladder-type tournament. In such a format, the lower seeded teams must play on the road against the next highest seed to try to advance to the next highest seed, and so on.
In District 4-2A, the fifth ranked Pojoaque Elks traveled to take on the fourth ranked Robertson (Las Vegas) Cardinals, with Robertson winning 55-49 Feb. 20. In the second round (quarterfinal game), the Cardinals visited the third ranked West Las Vegas Dons, upsetting their crosstown rivals, 67-59 Feb. 21. Robertson marched onward to face the St. Michael's Horsemen in Santa Fe, but lost a close battle, 60-58 Feb. 22, setting up the one versus two championship tilt.
Taos jumped out to the early lead and never looked back. At the end of the first quarter, the Tigers held a 16-11 lead. That advantage was trimmed down by the Horsemen who inched closer as the half winded down - trailing by just two, 29-27 at the intermission.
The Tigers exploded in the third quarter - mounting a furious surge that produced 24 points - deflating all the momentum St. Mike's was building in the second quarter. The Tigers tend to come out flat after halftime, but a change in trend was the difference in this game as Taos went into the fourth quarter with a 13-point cushion, 53-40.
The final stanza saw both teams trade field goals and free throws. But in the end, Taos would hang on to the lead and reap the trophy and banner harvest as the 2018 district tournament champions.
"These guys are really starting to believe in themselves and each other," said Chavez. "I too, have a lot of trust in these young men."
Abdul Khweis, Justin Madrid, Quinn Moon and Allen Martinez were selected to the All-District team for Taos for their outstanding play in the regular season and the title game. All four of those players scored double-digit points on the evening with Madrid scoring 10 and Moon pumping in an additional 12. Khweis finished the night with 16 points, and Martinez led all scorers with 20, including an impressive 8-for-8 from the free-throw line.
The win gave Taos a 17-10 (.630 win percentage) overall record and a number five seed in the state basketball tournament. Taos will host a first-round state game at Otero Gymnasium and will welcome No. 12 seed Santa Fe Indian School Saturday (March 3). The state basketball tournament consists of lower seeds (9 through 16) having to travel to higher seeds (1 through 8) before gathering in Albuquerque, Bernalillo, and Rio Rancho for quarterfinal action starting Tuesday (March 6).
Tipoff for the first-round game is slated for 6 p.m. with doors opening at 4 p.m. The Taos High athletic department will presell tickets Friday (March 2) beginning at 12:30 p.m. on a first-come-first-serve basis until all designated presold tickets are distributed. Tickets can still be purchased at the door on game day.