ALBUQUERQUE — In a district loaded with the top three teams in Class AAA the last few years, you have to check your ego at the door and come ready to play every night.
If not, losses like Saturday night’s setback for the St. Michael’s boys basketball team will happen with much more frequency.
The Horsemen (13-9, 1-1 District 5AAA) turned the ball over 14 times and allowed host Albuquerque Sandia Preparatory to shoot 53 percent from the field as the Sundevils (16-6, 2-0) pulled away for a 51-40 victory.
Ranked second in the most recent AAA rankings on Maxpreps.com, Sandia Prep moves into sole possession of first place in the district, one game ahead of the third-ranked Horsemen and No. 1 Albuquerque Hope Christian (12-11, 1-1). Hope visits Sandia Prep on Wednesday while the Horsemen face last-place Santa Fe Indian School.
“We’ve got a lot going on next week with final exams, but we will have a good week of practice and we will come out ready for our next game,” said Ron Geyer, St. Michael’s head coach. “We will also have a great deal of respect for our next opponent.”
By that, Geyer meant that his team may have strolled into the Prep Fieldhouse on a cold and blustery night thinking it was the clear-cut favorite. Aside for a few brief moments in the first half and a small offensive burst in the game’s closing moments, the Sundevils were easily the better team.
Behind 14 points from Tyler Dorner and 10 from aggressive point guard Johnny Doran, Prep managed more than enough offense to overcome a St. Michael’s defense that has held the majority of its opponents under 50 points this season. The pair provided the spark that turned the game completely in the Sundevils’ favor midway through the second quarter.
With the game tied at 11, Dorner drained a 3-pointer with 3 minutes, 49 seconds left in the first half. At the 2:04 mark, Doran hit another trey, this time from the wing as he was fouled by Horsemen guard Kameron Romero. The ensuing free throw made it a rare four-point play, opening an 18-11 lead that St. Michael’s never recovered from.
The Horsemen could not get closer than five points the rest of the way. The margin ballooned to 17 late in the fourth quarter before St. Michael’s hit five straight shots over a 67-second span to trim the Prep lead to 45-38 in the final minute.
It was merely cosmetic. The Sundevils did what good teams do. They converted at the free throw line, hitting on 16 of 17 tries for the game and 11 of 12 in the fourth quarter.
Prep coach Willie Owens said his team’s recent upset loss to Las Vegas Robertson was the wake-up call his team needed.
“Robertson had a good night, but it made us realize that the fight for the district is what our kids were focusing on,” he said. “I’m not going to say this game makes us the team to beat in the district. Any three of us can beat the other on any given night. This is one game, we did what we needed to do and we got the win. No way does it make us the favorite.”
The Horsemen were led by Salomon Martinez’s 11 points. Jeff Groenewold had eight. Center Justin Flores had just two points and two rebounds. Gabe Ortiz came of the bench in the second half to score six points on a pair of 3-pointers late in the game.
“They were the better team tonight, that’s the simple thing,” Geyer said. “It’s not to take away from what our opponent did because Sandia Prep played a better game than we did, but I don’t think our players came ready to play tonight. We had an inflated opinion of ourselves after having a great game against Hope, but we came in tonight mentally unprepared in my opinion.”