With four players making the move from the football field to the hardwood, the Horsemen performed as defending Class AAA champions should Thursday.
They dismantled West Las Vegas 59-41 in the opening round of the 52nd annual Capital City Invitational in Santa Fe High’s Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium.
St. Michael’s plays Pueblo (Colo.) Central in a semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Capital, which beat Anthony Gadsden 47-44, plays Santa Fe Preparatory, a 59-32 winner over the Santa Fe High junior varsity, at 3:30 p.m.
It was an afternoon of experimentation as the Horsemen (2-0) utilized almost all of their 15 players who suited out for the varsity, so the wave of blue-and-white jerseys that checked in and out was not a mirage.
That included the foursome of Cory Serna, Salomon Martinez, Isaiah Dominguez and Daniel Ortega, who all just celebrated a football over the weekend.
“With the exception of Isaiah, they all have a lot of experience,” said Ron Geyer, St. Michael’s head coach. “That means we expect a lot out of them, and we told them, ‘Expect to play this weekend.’ ”
As high as those expectations are for that group, they are equally as high for the group that has practiced and played one game since the start of practice in November.
They did not disappoint, especially seniors Matt Barela and Jeff Groenewold.
Barela scored all nine of his points in the first half, while Groenewold chipped in with a team-best 12.
Barela’s contributions ended after halftime for a reason. He injured his left knee about a minute into the third quarter and had to be helped to the bench. He never returned and Geyer said he won’t play the rest of the weekend.
It was Barela’s play late in the first quarter and early in the second that helped the Horsemen take control of the game. He scored five straight points during that stretch to force a 14-all tie after he made one of two free throws with 7:23 left in the quarter.
The free throw started a 7-0 spurt that gave St. Michael’s a 20-14 lead it never relinquished.
Groenewold had nine points in the fourth quarter as St. Michael’s built its advantage to as much as 57-38.
The Horsemen also hit all 10 of their free throws in the quarter to alleviate the loss of Barela. But he will be missed.
“We lose a lot with Matt,” Groenewold said. “His sense with the ball, his touch. He’s a huge, huge part of this team. We need guys to step up. Matt’s a tough player, and he’ll be back.”
The Dons (2-3) didn’t help matters with foul trouble.
Senior guard Lucas Rodriguez picked up three fouls by the second quarter and eighth grader D.J. Bustos had two.
It forced Dons head coach Ernie Rodriguez, Lucas’ dad, had to put in younger, inexperienced players at key stretches.
“I think in the first half, we had more experienced players making better decisions,” coach Rodriguez said. “In the second half, we had inexperienced players making questionable decisions.”
In other action
Pueblo Central 50, Santa Fe High 39
It was a sign of how off the Demons (2-5) were against the Wildcats.
Michael Ranson, who led Pueblo Central with 24 points, hit eight field goals, the same amount as Santa Fe High.
Even though the Demons got within 23-21, it was all Wildcats after that.
Wyatt Honstein led Santa Fe High with 11 points, while Tres Chaires added 10.
Capital 47, Gadsden 44
The Jaguars (6-1) rallied from a 42-36 deficit in the fourth quarter with a closing 11-2 run to advance to a semifinal matchup with Prep.
Taylor Martinez had 10 of his 18 points in the final period to lead the charge as the Jaguars played without guards Christian Martinez and Michael Sanders, who were suspended for the game.
Tommy Cano led the Panthers with 11 points.
Santa Fe Prep 59, Santa Fe High JV 32
The Blue Griffins (8-1) jumped out to a 30-14 lead at the half and cruised the rest of the way thanks to Francis Mulert’s six 3-pointers and 21 points overall.
D.J. Casados and Tex Ritter each added 15.