|Hobbs' Adrian Sanchez shoots a 3-pointer.|
ALBUQUERQUE — Adrian Sanchez entered Wednesday’s Class 5A state quarterfinal game against No. 2 Sandia having hit 99 3-pointers this season for No. 7 Hobbs – a single-season school record.
After his first five attempts of the game, it was hard to believe he’d hit any.
The senior was 0-for-5 to start the game with three air balls and another that was well off the mark.
While a bit discouraged, the senior didn’t stop shooting.
Sanchez drained a 3-pointer late in the second quarter and it would be a run of four consecutive for him, including a game-winner where he pump faked, took a dribble and swished it through with 1.0 seconds left to lead the Eagles past the Matadors 66-65 at The Pit.
In a contest where it would’ve been easy for Sanchez – a vocal leader for the Eagles – to get frustrated and lose focus, he kept on shooting thanks to a little pep talk from Hobbs coach Mike Smith.
“Coach just told me to keep my head up and take my shots,” Sanchez said. “Coach told me, ‘You may have missed the first five, but you’ll hit the next five.’ I just took that mentality and they started falling for me.”
Smith was almost right as Sanchez hit the next four to help the Eagles to tonight’s state semifinal contest against No. 6 Las Cruces.
Sanchez’s ability to knock down 3-pointers is crucial for Hobbs. When he’s hitting, it forces teams to keep an eye on him and gives more room for players such as Hobbs leading scorer Dane Pannell to maneuver.
When Sanchez isn’t hitting, like in the first half Wednesday, defenses often pack the middle. Sandia with their 6-foot-7 post and 6-foot-5 wings did that in the first half and made life miserable for Hobbs offensively in the half court as the Eagles mustered just 24 first-half points.
But Sanchez wasn’t the only senior to step up.
Pannell put Hobbs on his back and carried the Eagles with his all-around play. Whether it was draining a 3-pointer, taking the ball to the basket, grabbing rebounds around the bigger Matador players or snagging numerous steals, Pannell was crucial to Hobbs’ comeback.
Pannell scored seven points during a key 11-0 run late in the third quarter that turned a 40-31 Hobbs deficit into a 42-41 lead.
The 6-foot-3 guard has been the Eagles’ catalyst all season long and stepped up on the big stage Wednesday.
“These past couple weeks we’ve been taking the mentality that this is our last year,” Pannell said of his fellow seniors. “We don’t have next year. We just tried to step up and be leaders and do what we have to do to win.”
Hobbs now has the state championship game within its grasp with only No. 6 Las Cruces standing in the way. The Eagles beat the Bulldawgs 78-60 on Feb. 16 at Tasker Arena, but it won’t that easy tonight.
Las Cruces has been playing better ball as of late, including its 64-58 win over No. 3 La Cueva on Wednesday. The Bulldawgs feature a strong post in Trevor Noel, a good swingman in Kai Williams and a solid point guard in Joseph Garza.
It’s going to be a battle.