Lucky for them, the Elks passed.
It’s been a tough road this season for a Pojoaque team haunted by inconsistent performances.
The Elks have gone from beating a strong Laguna-Acoma team for the Ben Luján Tournament championship Dec. 22, but then losing to mediocre Wingate one week later.
They followed that by being swept by Portales and Lovington during the Portales Shootout over the weekend.
But Pojoaque (9-5) held fast in a tight battle that resulted in a 69-61 win over Class AAAA Grants in Ben Luján Gymnasium.
It was a game that seemed like it would come down to whoever had the ball last, as the Pirates and Elks constantly traded leads.
Grants (5-9) had the lead 11-10 at the end of the first, then Pojoaque stole it back in the last 4 seconds of the first half when a field goal by sophomore Anthony Rodriguez sent the Elks into the locker room up 25-24.
It was reasonable to assume the second half would play out the same — and it did.
At least, until the final few minutes.
If the Elks needed to show they have matured, they did it during that stretch.
A series of Pirates fouls in the last minute sent Pojoaque to the line five times, where it went 7 of 9 at the stripe. The first trip, by senior Jamal Cunningham, put the Elks up 64-53 with 1:08 to go.
It was that fourth-quarter breakdown that Pojoaque head coach Joey Trujillo was banking on.
He said game film showed Grants had a tendency to peter out at the end.
“[The Pirates] play really tough for three, four quarters but for some reason they sort of break down at the end,” Trujillo said. “That was I was hoping would happen tonight and maybe in a way it did, but I think we also had something to do with it.”
Staying focused the entire game was what eventually won out for the Elks but questions still remain whether they can get it together enough to go the distance — but Wednesday’s game hinted at improvement in a key area.
“There’s been a couple of games where we haven’t taken care of the ball at the end and it’s cost us the game,” Trujillo said. “And I thought we did a good job protecting the ball and making good decisions and making our free throws at the end.”
And it was a team effort. Rodriguez led the way with 17, followed by senior Brandon Bustos with 12.
The game’s high score went to Grants junior point guard Jacob Willcox with 19.
While pleased with this win sending the Elks in the right direction, Trujillo has no illusions about the road they have to take.
“Our next three games are going to be brutal — [Albuquerque] Sandia Prep, St. [Michael’s], and then our first district game with Taos,” he said. “And we could very easily lose those three games or very easily win all three games. It’s just going to be interesting.”
Pojoaque will get a chance to enhance its résumé when it plays Albuquerque Sandia Preparatory at 7 p.m. Saturday at home.
The Sundevils are 11-3 and among the top teams in Class AAA.