ALBUQUERQUE – Maybe it was fitting, in a weird kind of way, to end a weird kind of season like this, following one of the weirdest years in human history.
The Hobbs girls’ basketball team had to wait almost a year to find out if there would even be a season, if there would even be a chance to defend last year’s state 5A championship.
The opportunity came. And the Lady Eagles soared with an unbeaten record and the top seed into Saturday’s title game rematch with Volcano Vista at The Pit in Albuquerque.
But, a repeat championship was not to be for Hobbs. The dream ended when Volcano’s Natalia Chavez threw up a desperation heave from just past midcourt, and it dropped home at the buzzer to end overtime, giving the second-seeded Lady Hawks a 52-49 victory – and this year’s state 5A crown.
Seemed almost surreal. But then, most everything about the last 14 months has been surreal – the cancellations, the masks, the pods, the express season. So, why not end a crazy basketball season with a happy birthday shot on Mother’s Day weekend?
Though disappointed, Hobbs head coach Joe Carpenter was glad to have had any kind of 2021 season, any championship game, at any time.
“I think we’re blessed to be playing,” Carpenter said. “We got a chance to defend our title; I didn’t think it was going to happen, to be honest. … I’m just thankful the NMAA was able to make that happen for us.”
There was a lot of thankfulness going around The Pit on Saturday.
“To think that we almost didn’t have a season,” Volcano Vista head coach Lisa Villareal said. “We’ve got to give (NMAA director) Sally Marquez a lot of thanks and praise to allow us to have this season, and for working so hard to get these girls back out on the court.”
Saturday’s game was the 13th for both teams, each coming in at 12-0. Befitting those unblemished records, the game reached overtime, and appeared to be headed for a second OT after Hobbs’ eighth-grade guard Brynn Hargrove sank a three-point bank shot from the left side, forging a 49-all tie with just 3.5 seconds left in the extra period.
The teams called successive timeouts – first Volcano Vista, then Hobbs. The Lady Eagles were over the foul limit. “We talked about it in the huddle,” Carpenter said, “and I told them, ‘We can’t foul here.’ We had to be conscientious of it, and so we backed off.”
The Lady Hawks still had to work fast. Kennedy Brown inbounded to Chavez, who barely had enough time to dribble upcourt, let alone take a shot. Chavez managed to do both, getting just past halfcourt with about a second to go, and firing away.
“To be honest, I wasn’t aware of the clock at all. I didn’t even know how much time was left,” Chavez said. “But once I got the ball and I saw them back up, I just took the chance, I just went, I just threw it up, hoping it was going to go in.”
The ball sailed through the air, as everyone in the building watched, waited, to see how the shot would land. It plummeted toward the rim, looked good on the way down. And it dropped in just as the buzzer sounded and backboard lit up in red.
It was a shot that Chavez had taken many times in practice.
“I can’t believe I actually made one in the state championship in overtime,” Chavez said.
“It was a shot that I might not ever coach again,” Villa-real said.
“We defended them to the best of our ability,” Carpenter said. “I’m not going to make any excuses. The kid made the shot; you guys saw it, it was tremendous, amazing.”
It was the biggest three points of Chavez’s game-high 21, probably the biggest basket of her life. The Lady Hawks celebrated, but the officials had to check the replay to make sure Chavez’s shot had left her hands before the buzzer. Once that was confirmed, Volcano Vista’s celebration began anew.
And so did Hobbs’ offseason. The Lady Eagles will look forward to what should be a promising 2021-22 season, but know it won’t include Elise Turrubiates, Jamiah Clay or Alexia Fabe-la, who are graduating.
Those players had the benefit of ending their high school careers at The Pit, the stuff of basketball legend, where Coach Jim Valvano once ran around waving his arms after his North Carolina State men’s team won the NCAA championship – on the Wolfpack’s own buzzer-beater.
Turrubiates went out with a solid overall game – tying Wisdom Anthony for a team-high 16 points, to go with nine rebounds and four steals.
“I’ve been to the state championship my whole high school career,” an emotional Turrubiates said. “I came out of it with two (championships). I’m proud of our team.”