On the same day he was blowing out 18 candles on his cake, Santa Fe High boys basketball player Elliot Nicholas delivered the best birthday gift of all to his team with a buzzer-beating bucket in a dramatic 58-57 upset win Saturday night at Capital. It was the regular season finale for both teams.
The result spoiled what would have been Capital’s clinching victory in the top-heavy District 2AAAA race. The Jaguars (20-6, 6-2) needed a win to secure first place. They instead fall into a first-place tie with Bernalillo, forcing a one-game playoff to determine the district tournament’s top seed.
The teams will square off Monday at a neutral site. The winner will host the district tournament championship game next Friday while the loser drops into the No. 2 seed.
The game’s time and location had not been determined as of Saturday night. Santa Fe Public Schools athletic director Kim Loomis said the answer will come during Sunday’s regularly scheduled coaches meeting.
Santa Fe High head coach David Rodriguez floated the idea of having his Demons, the district’s fourth seed, face No. 5 Los Alamos at 5 p.m. Monday night, then have Capital and Bernalillo square off immediately afterward. Both games would be in Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium.
Either way, he said, Saturday’s result is a win not only for his team, but maybe the district’s as a whole.
“To play with the best, you have to be at your best, and this was a game where we had to step to the challenge,” he said.
At 12-14, 3-5, Santa Fe High looked to be dead in the water in a game it absolutely had to have. Down 57-54 in the final 10 seconds, the Demons appeared to cough up their last chance when guard Wyatt Honstein lost the ball out of bounds on a baseline drive with 8.1 seconds left.
Two steals off inbound passes led to two layups in the final six seconds, stunning the Capital crowd and sending the Santa Fe High players into a mid-court frenzy. In the middle of it all was Nicholas, the team’s leading scorer this season but a player who struggled with his shot all night.
He finished with 11 points. Honstein had a game-high 24 while Tres Chaires had 18. Mikey Lopez had a team-high 21 for Capital.
Nicholas’ birthday gift came in the form of Capital’s generosity. Jordan Booth-Homer cut it to 57-56 with a steal on an inbounds pass. His layup came with 6.5 seconds left, but the referees added a half second to the clock and had the Jaguars inbound the ball again from under their own basket.
Coming out of a timeout, Lopez inexplicably heaved a baseball pass three-fourths of the way down the court. The ball bounced once, caromed off the backboard and landed in Nicholas’ hands. He drove through traffic the entire length of the court and scored at the buzzer.
“I’m not sure what I was thinking except that there really wasn’t time to set something up,” Nicholas said. “All I knew was I had four fouls and my job was to cover the guy up top. When I saw the pass coming, I was kind of surprised. I just ran after it and, well, that’s it, I guess.”