It’s all about the view, Justin Woody said.
At halftime on Friday night, the view from the Highland High School locker room was disheartening.
Visiting Belen led to a great shootout in the first half and led the second-placed Hornets by a dozen points at halftime. And so from that opening game in Highlands District 5-4A it was clear that the final month of the regular season would be a challenging one for this league’s pre-season favorites.
“I told the boys we’re not used to being hit on the bull’s eye,” said Woody, the Highland Head Boy basketball coach. “And that we will bring out the best for everyone.”
However, seventh-placed Belen (12-6, 1-1) couldn’t hold that 12-point lead in the second half, and Highland (11-3, 1-0) — triggered by Raul Stanford’s early 3-pointer in the extra -Session for a four-point lead – finally held the Eagles back with a 48-47 victory in overtime at the fanless Highland.
“We have three teams (including St. Pius) in our district in the top seven (from MaxPreps.com) and it’s fun,” Woody said. “It prepares us for our district and the state tournament. You want to play against teams that challenge you every night.”
Belen, minus guard Jose Luis Garcia, overcame an early deficit with a sharp shooting eye and productive inside work, both elements equally effective to fuel a 17-0 run.
6-foot-5 Dalton Bland and 6-6 Daniel Corrales insulted the Eagles inside as Belen scored the last 11 of the first quarter for a 15-8 lead.
Freshman Damian Avila and runner-up Jordi Rojo buried back-to-back 3s early in the second quarter as the Hornets stared at an unexpected 21-8 deficit.
Rojo added two more 3s before halftime that gave Belen a 29-17 lead.
“We just got together and talked about our defense and figured out how to defend their shooters and their posts,” said HIghland senior post 6-9 Jose Murillo.
Woody said: “They played harder than us in the second quarter and the second half of the first quarter. And then we came out and reached their intensity in the second half.”
Murillo hit 14 of his top 20 team points on the second-half comeback, including a couple of rim-rattling two-handed alley-oop dunks.
Brandon Medina, a 6-4 junior who made his first start of the season to offset Belen’s mass up front, hit two 3-point clutches for Highland in the fourth quarter, the first offensive sound he made since joining the Hornets had hit ‘ first eight points of the game.
“I have the confidence to shoot it, so the coach told me to shoot it,” Medina said. He finished with 14 points.
Neither team scored in the final 92 seconds of the rule. Murillo scored a 43-41 from close range to start the OT. After a Belen free throw, Stanford nailed a 3 from the top of the key for a 46-42 lead. The final lead was the result of a last-second Belen Field goal.
HOCHLAND 48, BELEN 47 (OT)
BELEN (12-6, 1-1 in 5-4A): Jordi Rojo 11, Elijah Romero 7, Damian Avila 3, Dalton Bland 10, Brody Jacquez 5, Daniel Corrales 11. Overall 17 8-12 47.
HIGHLANDS (11-3, 1-0): JoJo Woody 4, Alexis Dominguez 2, Gustavo Ayala 2, Brandon Medina 14, Raul Stanford 3, Fernando Hernandez 3, Jose Murillo 20. Overall 20 2-2 48.
Belen 15 14 5 7 6 – 47
Highlands 8 9 10 14 7 – 48
3-point goals: B5 (Red 3, Romero, Avila); H6 (Medina 4, Stanford, Hernandez). Total fouls: B11; H16.