By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
RIO RANCHO — For most of Wednesday’s Class 1A boys state quarterfinal game, Elida played more like the No. 1 seed than did top-seeded Cliff.
The Tigers, competing in a state tournament for the first time since 1983, showed that they may have been underappreciated coming in at No. 8. Junior Wesley GilmoreÕs last-second basket in overtime off an inbounds play gave Elida a 56-54 win at Rio Rancho High School.
“We took it as a slap when they seeded us there,” Elida coach Darrell Chenault said. “It hurt our feelings, and I think it made us play harder.
“Of course, it scared us too, because CliffÕs got a great team. We just took it as a challenge.”
The Tigers (26-4) meet District 3-1A rival Dora, which edged Springer 55-54 on Wednesday with two baskets in the final 30 seconds, in an 8:15 p.m. semifinal today at Rio RanchoÕs Santa Ana Star Center.
Gilmore scored 23 points for the Tigers. Tom Sullivan, who assisted on the game-winner, had 13 points and Ever Varela chipped in 11.
“It feels great,” Gilmore said of the win. “We’ve been working hard since eighth grade, and it just feels so good to finally get here and win.”
Cliff (23-4) led 1-0 and 3-2, but then fell behind until Ryhan Peralta’s basket put the Cowboys in front 45-44 with 2:47 left. Elida countered with a 6-2 run and opened a three-point lead when Gilmore broke deep and took an inbounds baseball pass from Sullivan for a layup with seven seconds left.
After Cliff guard Jarett Mendenhall’s 3-pointer as time expired sent the game into OT, the Cowboys held Elida scoreless for more than three minutes and opened a 54-50 lead on two free throws by Mendenhall with 1:50 left.
Gilmore and Varela each converted two free throws to pull Elida even with 45 seconds left. Sullivan then forced a turnover and the Tigers ran the clock down from 37 seconds to 2.3 and called timeout.
Gilmore cut down the right side of the lane, took the inbounds pass from Sullivan and flipped the ball in off glass over a Cliff defender.
“We had so many options on that play,” Gilmore said. “Ryan Best got a good screen on No. 23 (Mendenhall), and that gave me an opportunity.”
Elida won the game in part by sinking 12-of-14 free throws to just 9-of-12 for the Cowboys.
Mendenhall led Cliff with 16 points and junior post David Welburn added 12.