Special to The-SCORE.info
By MATT HOLLINSHEAD
ARTESIA – Bryce McAlister finally got his shot against the Rio Rancho Rams.
Four of them, in fact. And he took full advantage.
Playing for Carlsbad last year, McAlister couldn’t compete in the state tournament due to a torn ACL. But on Saturday night, now play for Artesia, the senior wing man hit four key free throws to lift the Bulldogs to a 53-50 victory and the City of Champions Classic title.
With the Bulldogs trailing by a point in the closing minute, the 6-7 McAlister drove the baseline from the right side heading and was fouled. He calmly sank both free throws to give Artesia the lead 52-51.
Rio Rancho senior guard Juan Hurt had an opportunity to give the Rams the lead. He drove inside against Artesia’s big men but was whistled for going at an offensive foul.
“Juan wants to make a play happen,” Rio Rancho head coach Wally Salata. “But in that particular place, when they had two post guys come up, he should’ve dished the ball off. If he had dished the ball off, we’d get a layup.
“Usually Clay (Patterson) is the one taking that play. Juan hasn’t been in that situation.”
Patterson sustained a dislocated knee cap in Thursday’s first-round game and is expected to be sidelined for at least a month.
The Rams’ pressure defense nearly forced a turnover on the ensuing possession. But with the ball rolling loose near center court, McAlister snatched it up and was fouled again.
McAlister knocked down two more free throws, giving Artesia the final three-point margin with six seconds left.
Hurt’s desperation 3-pointer from the left corner was off as time expired.
“Bryce is our guy. Down the stretch there at the end, we’re going to get him the ball,” Artesia coach Michael Mondragon said “His teammates have faith in him to either make a play or find somebody else that’ll make a play.
“I couldn’t be prouder. We just made enough plays there at the end to find a way to win.”
In winning in front of their home fans, the Bulldogs also denied a second Rio Rancho championship in three years.
It was a mixed bag of thoughts from Salata – disappointed with the Rams closed this game but overall content with his team’s overall performance in the tournament.
“We had multiple turnovers in the last two minutes of the game,” Salata said. “We’ve got to do a better job taking care of the basketball.
“We had an opportunity to win. Artesia played great.
“We played three very good basketball teams. To beat Las Cruces and Carlsbad and then play Artesia, that’s as good as it gets in a tournament. Maybe that took a little bit out of us, playing the tough competition.”
The Rams started strong in the first couple minutes with their outside shooting, one of their notorious calling cards. The Bulldogs responded playing more up-tempo, bolting up and down the floor. Artesia had deep outlet passes and set up quick shots.
“When the ball went to one side of the floor, the opposite guard wasn’t dropping back as a safety,” Salata said. “So, they got some really easy buckets.
“They jumped on us right away. We’ll learn from this.”
The Rams (5-3) return to action at home on Friday against Valley at 7 p.m.
“We’ve got to lick our wounds, and we’ve got to get ready to play next week against a good Valley team,” Salata said.
Artesia is 3-0 after starting its season with the tournament.