Mike Powers| News-Bulletin photos
Rylee Salome of Belen captured her second straight 4A state golf title.

SANTA ANA PUEBLO — Despite an impressive all-around showing by the Belen Eagles at the NMAA State 4A Golf Championships at Santa Ana Golf Club, there was touch of disappointment hanging over the celebration.

In the girls’ tournament, BHS took third place, with sophomore Rylee Salome winning her second straight individual title, and in the boys’ event, BHS junior Grady Cox was one stroke away from capturing his third straight championship.

Still, at one point in the final round, the Belen girls had a nearly double-digit lead after topping the field by two strokes following day one.

The Belen Eagles captured third place at the 4A state golf championship. From left, Andie Saiz, Sayrie Guerrera, Rylee Salome, Isabella Sisneros, and Avery Latter.

During the final round Tuesday, the lead started to slip away on the back nine. Soon, the Eagles were able to barely hang on to the third-place trophy.

Coach Donald Marquez was philosophical.

“I’m very proud of what they did,” Marquez said. “We lost to two schools (Albuquerque Academy and St. Pius) that are very respected in golf. I feel like that little bit of experience got us in the end.”

Academy won the tournament with a 683, followed by St. Pius at 691 and Belen at 692 — one shot better than Deming.

Marquez had special praise for his three seniors — Andie Saiz, Isabella Sisneros and Sayrie Guerrera — who had little to no golf experience when they joined the team. Avery Latter rounded out the five-person squad and had the team’s second lowest score behind Salome.

Individually, Salome led by just two shots after the first round, but was unstoppable over the final 18 holes, shooting a 69 to win by a whopping ten strokes.

“Super excited,” was Salome’s reaction. “If I get into trouble, get out of trouble,” was her strategy starting the day. “Play a simple round of golf. Hit it in the fairway. Hit the green.”

Salome is now aiming to make it three state titles in a row.

“Hopefully,” she said. “That’s the plan.”

Belen’s Grady Cox launches a tee shot on his way to finishing second at the 4A golf championship.

That was the plan for Cox, too, but he was literally aced out of a three-peat in large part to a hole-in-one by Vari Mariscal of Deming. Mariscal fired a 67, a 140 total, to edge Cox by one shot.

“It took something special to beat Grady,” is how coach Marquez phrased it.

Cox, who went 72-69, finished his final round about two hours before Mariscal, and ended with a birdie-birdie flurry.

“I think those were probably the most clutch two holes of my life,” Cox said a few minutes after signing his score card. “I didn’t have a bogie. I made a lot of par putts.”

Belen did not qualify a team for the boys championship, which meant Cox was not paired with  contenders.

“I let myself get a little out of concentration. I wasn’t that sharp here and there.” But in the end, “I’m happy. I gave it my all.”

Deming easily captured the boys’ team title.

Robb Sexsmith Jr. had the low score for Los Lunas at the 5A state golf championship.

Just up the road at Twin Warriors Golf Club was the 5A State Championship. The Los Lunas boys’ team qualified after winning the district title.

La Cueva easily won the championship, with the Tigers eighth in the eight-team field, gaining valuable experience for the future.

“I’m very proud of my players for all the work they put in,” coach Robb Sexsmith said. “I will get better as a coach to put them in a position to compete again next year.”

Robb Sexsmith Jr. led LLHS, firing identical rounds of 80 to finish tied for 17th. La Cueva’s Jake Yrene took medalist honors with a 139.

La Cueva also won the girls team championship while Centennial’s Alex Armendariz took the individual titles.

Gianna Nilvo was the lone Los Lunas competitor in the girl’s tournament, finishing in 34th place with a score of 200.

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Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.