It’s all about the view, Justin Woody said.
Friday night at halftime, the view from the Highland High School locker room was daunting.
A visit to Belen made for some great first-half shooting, leading the second-ranked Hornets by a dozen runs at the half. And so it was already clear, even in this Highland’s District 5-4A opener, that the final month of the regular season would be challenging for this league’s preseason favorite.
“I told the guys we’re not used to having a rose on our backs,” said Highland head basketball coach Woody. “And that we’re going to get everyone’s best chance.”
However, seventh-ranked Belen (12-6, 1-1) was unable to maintain that 12-point lead in the second half, and Highland (11-3, 1-0) — fueled by the early 3 of Raul Stanford, sophomore guard-pointer in the extra session for a four-point lead – eventually stopped the Eagles with a 48-47 overtime win in the fanless Highland.
“We have three teams (including St. Pius) in our district that are in the top seven (by MaxPreps.com), and it’s fun,” Woody said. “That’s what prepares us for our district and state tournament. You want to play against teams that give you challenges every night.”
Belen, minus guard Jose Luis Garcia, overcame an early deficit with a keen eye and some productive work inside, both elements being equally effective in fueling a 17-0 run.
6-foot-5 Dalton Bland and 6-6 Daniel Corrales gave the Eagles some offense as Belen scored the last 11 of the first quarter for a 15-8 lead.
Freshman Damian Avila and sophomore Jordi Rojo buried consecutive 3s early in the second quarter as the Hornets stared at an unexpected 21-8 deficit.
Rojo added two more 3s before halftime, which Belen had for 29-17.
“We just got together and talked about our defense and how we can defend their gunmen and their mailmen,” said Jose Murillo, Highland 6-9 senior post.
Woody said, “They played the second quarter and the second half of the first quarter harder than us. And then we came out and matched their intensity in the second half.”
Murillo scored 14 of his team-best 20 points in the second-half comeback, including a pair of rim-ratting, two-handed alley-oop dunks.
Brandon Medina, a 6-4 junior who made his first start of the season to offset some of Belen’s mass on the front lines, hit two clutch three-pointers in the fourth quarter for Highland, the first offensive sound he made since scoring of the Hornets’ 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 regulation. Murillo scored from close range for a 43-41 to start the OT. On a free throw from Belen, Stanford scored a 3 from the top of the key for a 46-42 lead. The final margin was the result of a field goal by Belen in the last second.
HIGHLAND 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. Total 17 8-12 47.
HIGHLAND (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. Total 20 2-2 48.
Call 15 14 5 7 6 – 47
Highland 8 9 10 14 7 — 48
3-point goals: B5 (Red 3, Romero, Avila); H6 (Medina 4, Stanford, Hernandez). Total Errors: B11; H16.