A sardine-can packed Louis G. Sanchez Memorial Gymnasium in Pecos served as the backdrop to one of the biggest matchups in Class AA this season, and Carpio helped make sure it was unforgettable for the Laguna-Acoma Hawks.
The senior wing had 16 points, most of them in the paint, as the Hawks proved to be the stronger, more physical team as they beat the host Panthers 73-68 in a battle between the top two teams in AA. But the scene stealer, though, was the 950 spectators who rocked through a wild game that saw Laguna build a 20-point lead, only to have the Panthers rally at every turn.
“I love it,” Carpio said. “It was nice, it was loud. I love games like that.”
Carpio can say that because the Hawks (14-1) endured his absence over the final 38 seconds as Pecos (12-2) made a desperate charge from a 70-61 deficit.
The Panthers got a 3-pointer from Darren DeHerrera with 44.3 seconds left, then got a steal and a three-point opportunity on a drive by Johnny Vigil to make it 70-66.
“We knew they were going to come after us,” Hawks head coach Ryan Peil said. “Part of the problem was that we didn’t knock down some free throws [Laguna-Acoma was 2-for-8 in the fourth quarter] that would have maybe sealed it a little early. Then, it’s a couple of turnovers and they hit a couple of shots and they’re right back in it.”
The foul was on Carpio, his fifth, and he sat for the rest of the night.
Even as P.J. CdeBaca scored on a putback of Vigil’s missed free throw to make it 70-68, Carpio knew the Hawks would endure. That’s what the whole night had been about.
“We had to be smart, and stay calm,” Carpio said. “That’s what we had to be.”
Laguna-Acoma was as it found a wide-open Ryan Arkie under the basket as the Panthers pressed full-court and he laid it in for the last of his team-high 21 points and a 72-68 margin with :28 left.
Pecos head coach Russ Gilmore felt his team had too many hills to climb in its charge back from a 43-23 deficit early in the third quarter.
“We just dug ourselves a hole and we had to dig all night long,” Gilmore said.
Part of that was because the Hawks entrenched themselves in the paint all game long. All 17 of their field goals in the first half came from inside of five feet. The trio of Carpio, Arkie and Austin Jones accounted for 10 of those baskets as they took Pecos defenders off the dribble and got to the basket with impunity.
Arkie ended the half with a drive to the basket with 2 seconds left that upped the Hawks’ margin to 40-23 at the half.
“We were constantly abused in the paint,” Gilmore said. “And 21 [Carpio] is a heck of a player. And then, we had to keep them out of the middle of the court, and they’d drive into us, around us and drop it off.”
The Panthers added more motion to its offense in the second half, and suddenly they took off, as a 21-6 run in the third quarter cut the deficit to 49-44. Seven baskets came in the paint, and when CdeBaca hit a pair of free throws, the Panthers fans were in full throat.
Laguna-Acoma 70, Pecos 37
The Lady Hawks forced Pecos guards Ida Valencia and Alexis CdeBaca to the bench with fouls in the first quarter, and the pressed their way to a 20-2 lead that was never threatened.
Randi Romero scored 24 points, with 16 in the first half as the margin grew to 36-15 at the half and 55-25 entering the fourth quarter.
Pecos head coach Leroy Barela said the Lady Panthers are still struggling with inconsistency. Some of it stems from illness that has hit the team, and the return of injured players to the line.
“We have spurts where we look like a pretty good varsity team,” Barela said. “Then we have spurts where we’re kind of out there and can’t put it together.”