HHistory was made in five words Tuesday night: Santa Fe Prep beat St. Michael’s.
Those words had never been uttered until Prep Senior Wing Finn Coles dribbled out the clock in his team’s impressive 62-52 win over the Horsemen to open the District 2-3A game at Perez-Shelley High School. It was the first time the Blue Griffins had defeated the Horsemen in boys’ basketball, and the faithful seated behind the team’s bench celebrated as if they knew how momentous the occasion was.
The only ones who seemed less shocked than most of the gym crowd were the Blue Griffins themselves (9-5 overall, 1-0 in 2-3A). A lot of that was because they never saw it as excitement – just as confirmation that they are capable of beating anyone in 3A.
“We’ve had this game circled on our calendar all year,” said Blue Griffins senior wing Finn Coles. “We talked about it in training and we’ve been practicing hard the last couple of times. That was all we wanted was to get that from us.”
There were warning signs the Blue Griffins shouldn’t ignore. In 2021, St. Michael’s went 50-44 at home, raising hopes that Prep, in its fourth year as a Class 3A program, would close the gap after spending the past five decades as a Class 2A staple.
Prep already had a resounding win when they defeated an Albuquerque Bosque School squad, ranked third by MaxPreps.com with a 68-63 score, on Jan. 11 in Albuquerque.
“We closed the gap. We just had to do it,” said fourth-year head coach Joe Vigil of the win against St. Michael.
The Blue Griffins have one of the best players in 3A in Coles, a 6-foot-3 winger who can handle the ball, shoot from distance and offer an inner presence that needs to be respected. He scored a game-high 23 points but only eight came in the second half.
Coles was more distributor than goal machine as he dished out seven assists after the break. He didn’t have to score with shooters like Gabe Cordova, Joshua Abeyta and Harry Browning. Each of them hit crucial 3-pointers in the second half as Prep overcame a 37-26 deficit.
“All of these guys can shoot, and Finn has faith in all of them,” Vigil said.
As much as it was a program-defining win for Prep, there were some Horsemen Blue who played a part in it.
Vigil was an assistant to legendary head coach Ron Geyer for a couple of years in the early 2010s and showed he learned a little from the master. Vigil deployed a 2-3 zone defense that forced St. Michael’s (2-11, 0-1) into a 3-for-25 shooting in the second half. The key was taking the weak defender at the front of the zone and placing him at the free-throw line to plug lanes while also recovering to avoid potential shooters.
At first it seemed like a foolhardy plan when Horsemen senior wing Devin Flores splattered a 3 off the left wing 15 seconds into the second half to put St Michael’s ahead 37-26.
It was the last bucket the riders made for the next 12 minutes and 47 seconds. They missed their next 16 shots and made five free throws in that span. Seven of them were local, which was exactly what the Blue Griffins wanted.
As St. Michael’s attacked the basket, a wall of tall, lanky Blue Griffins – led by Coles – caught every shot. Coles had five blocks and Prep six overall in the second half when the Riders appeared to smack Prep’s long arms instead of making contact and attempting to pull fouls.
“Instead of going in [Coles], we just threw shots in his arms,” Flores said. “Before that, we just shied away and they got their hands on the ball.”
Then there was prep senior guard Malachi Prevatt, a transfer from St. Michael who only became eligible earlier this year. The 5-foot-10 guard overcame nasty troubles in the opening minutes and scored 12 of his 15 second-half points, including eight during a 21-2 run that erased a double-digit lead and gave the Blue Griffins a 49-39 margin with 5 minutes in the game.
Prevatt missed most of the first half as he conceded two fouls in the first quarter. Without his ability to attack the rim and force St. Michael’s to pay more attention to him, Prep struggled to get on offense.
The Horsemen forced 11 turnovers with eight steals fueling their transition game. They amassed five steals in four minutes in the first quarter, fueling a 12-2 run to erase an early Blue Griffins 8-2 lead.
Adam Montoya, the 6-foot senior guard for the Horsemen, attacked the basket with aplomb to score 16 first-half points to take the lead. When he hit two free throws in the second half with 5:47 left, St. Michael’s led 24-17, eventually leading to a 34-26 lead at halftime.
Montoya was down to three points for the rest of the game as he found it difficult to look inside in the second half and missed all three of his 3-point attempts after the break.
“We wanted to put some pressure on the ball handlers and speed them up,” said Coles. “We love to run and we love to practice.”
Prep has shown it can execute what it puts into practice and is suddenly in 3A in thin air. The Blue Griffins are district contenders now, and if they beat Las Vegas Robertson on Saturday, they can end the first week of the 2-3A season 2-0 with victories over perhaps the two main contenders.
“They are a great ball club,” said Vigil. “[Robertson guard] Mathew Gonzales is a handful, as is Devin and Adam.”
But the Blue Griffins are no longer wimps either. They spoke five words into being that had never been spoken before.
From now on, the goal is to utter three more words not heard on prep campus: District 2-3A champions.