By Eric Butler; PNT correspondent
RIO RANCHO — After Dora’s thrilling 55-54 victory over Springer in a Class 1A quarterfinal game, Coyote Kyler Smith said he had heard of a famous NBA moment when Dennis Johnson stole a pass and fed Larry Bird for a winning bucket.
Maybe Smith was just doing his best D.J. impersonation in memory of the late ballplayer.
His steal in the waning seconds was the critical moment of a game that saw Dora build up a lead as much as 11 points before having to come back in the end.
Springer (22-8), which trailed most of the contest, seized a 53-51 lead when Eddie DeHerrera hit a pair of free throws with 2:07 left. It was the Red Devils’ first advantage since the early part of the second quarter. Robert Arrellano added a free throw with 1:09 remaining to stretch the lead to three.
Dora (22-6) chewed up half a minute trying to spring someone for a tying 3-pointer before going inside to Casey O’Connor, who was fouled with 23 seconds to go. After he made the both shots, Smith slipped in front of the Springer inbounds pass and stole the ball.
Smith fed O’Connor, who worked his way around one Red Devil defender in the paint and scored the winning shot with 15 seconds on the clock.
“You just can’t quit believing. If you do, you’re done,” O’Connor said.
“They just tried to get it in and we just came up with the steal,” said Smith of his critical swipe. “I got it to our senior and he took it to the rack.”
The Red Devils had one last chance, but a 3-point attempt by John Ramirez went awry with less than five seconds to play.
“(O’Connor) did a good job of going inside. Then we ran our press-breaker and threw the ball away and they come back and score again,” Springer coach Eloy Brazil said. “Still, we got another good look at it.”
Johnny Chavez and Thomas Garcia led Springer with 13 points apiece while Arrellano added 10.
Smith finished with a game-high 14 while Hector Fierro and O’Connor added 13 for the Coyotes.
“I still hadn’t quite figured out what happened there at the end,” said Dora coach Ty Thatcher just after the wild finish. “I know it was clutch out of my kids. They fought and fought and fought.”