Shawn Baker is the man — the consummate player who is head and shoulders above the rest. He’s the Los Lunas Men’s Basketball Association’s Jayson Williams. He’s not your father’s or grandfather’s Studebaker. He is a Rolls Royce with Nikes. And for good reason.
Behind Baker’s back-to-back 41-point performances, Avonite rules the roost and is the ‘A’ champion after dethroning former kingpin Homegrown.
“He’s awesome,” Avonite player-coach Raymond Segura said of Baker. “We jumped at the chance to get him, and he certainly carried us,” he added.
Avonite did it the hard way but earned every point they garnered by going from worst to first a year ago (0-12) to winning 14 of its last 15 games this season. After a 61-55 loss to Homegrown bumped Avonite into the losers’ bracket, Baker took over and poured in his first 41 markers in the championship game on Monday to lead his team to a 91-85 win. Before a raucous crowd at the Daniel Fernandez Youth Center gym on Tuesday, Baker scored 41 again in the “If” game of the double-elimination tournament, as Avonite claimed the league title with a 95-80 win.
Homegrown, behind a stellar 30 points from Jose Bibian, clawed its way in the second half to draw within a point, 79-78, with three minutes left. But Dave Griego, who added 16 points and did a creditable job on defense against Tony Valencia, fouled out 23 seconds later as Avonite won down the stretch.
Baker ensured Avonite’s victory by scoring the last nine points, seven of them from the free throw line, to force the “If” game the following evening. Avonite, behind Baker’s 26 first-half points, held a 49-36 lead, only to see Homegrown rally behind Biban and Eloy Medina, who pumped in 17 of his 22 points after the intermission.
Homegrown led early in the contest, 15-10 at 11:53, but Avonite got red-hot and forged its biggest lead at 39-23 with 5:26 remaining in the first half.
While Jason Caldwell and Margarito Amaya were held in check for a combined 15 points, Homegrown rode the hot hands of Bibian and Medina to nearly pull the game out of the fire. Medina ripped the cords for five of his six 3-pointers, and Medina added 18 of his 30 points in the second half.
While Baker stole the show, Willie Sanchez added 19 points, Tony Valencia added 13 and Rick Ortega chipped 10 for Avonite to spark the win.
Things started out very well for Homegrown in the league’s finale “If” title game. The purple-clad speedsters jumped out to a commanding 30-15 lead at the 9:07 mark before Avonite called time out to regroup.
And regroup they did. The eventual champions went on a 33-12 tear the remainder of the first half to take a 48-42 halftime lead.
Once again, Avonite’s Shawn Baker rose to the occasion, scoring 22 first-half points, en route to another mind-boggling 41 tallies.
“We came out sluggish but had to start playing better,” Baker said. “We got on each other (to perform better) when we took that timeout.
“Willie (Sanchez) told me to take over. And Tony (Valencia) stepped up a lot for us,” Baker said.
It was a game in which Homegrown fought back valiantly, pulling within three, 67-64, with 9:05 remaining, but it was Avonite’s night as Baker and Valencia continued their scoring onslaught the rest of the way.
Homegrown’s Dave Griego had one of his finest games ever by pumping in 34 points. He was nearly unstoppable in the first half, with scoring drives along the baseline and in the paint to keep his team close at the half, 48-42.
While Baker dazzled the crowd with his flawless offensive performance, complete with lightning-quick, cross-over dribbles and six long-range 3-pointers, he also fueled Avonite’s resolve with two shot-stopping blocks.
Valencia complemented Baker with 25 points, and Avonite’s role players — Rick Ortega, Ventura Trujillo and Lawrence Sanchez — all did their jobs and helped by scoring 18 points collectively.
Jason Caldwell scored 18, Jose Bibian added 15 and Eloy Medina contributed 11 points for Homegrown.
Baker, ex-Highland High star (class of 1993), praised Homegrown for its toughness and quickness and added a note of inspiration: “I’ve been playing ball since I was 5-years-old. I was motivated to work harder, when I was younger. I wasn’t picked up (to play) because I was short,” he said.
Nobody stood taller late Tuesday night. You don’t have to guess. Baker captured league and tournament MVP laurels.
Los Lunas-Belen Ballers 122
Albuquerque Bombers 91
Behind the scoring duo of Marquis Walker and Scott Blair, the Los Lunas-Belen Ballers scored early and often en route to their first-ever ‘B’ championship over the Albuquerque Bombers.
Walker, an Eldorado High School (Las Vegas, Nev.) 2000 graduate, fired in a game-high 33 points, and Blair, ex-Taos Tigers post, added 29 in the all-too easy victory.
The game was never in doubt, as the Ballers — who finished 6-9 — assumed an early double-digits lead and led by a whopping 59-37 advantage at halftime. Perhaps the biggest advantage the Ballers enjoyed was their superior front-line height advantage in Goodson (6-foot-7), Blair (6-foot-5) and Tim Hanks (6-foot-3).
“We came out a little slow, but we all clicked,” Blair said. “We simply hustled and had great team ball,” he added.
Leason Cherry and Tim Hanks each scored 19 points, and Matt Goodson added 14 to give the Ballers five men in double figures.
With 5:40 remaining, the Ballers had extended the lead to 102-72, and it was all over but hoisting the ‘B’ team trophy.
Landon Banks scored 30 points, Mike Jones added 23, Nick Baca contributed 20 and Lamott Daffin chipped in 10 for the Ballers, who finished its season at 4-10.
The Bombers claim to fame this season was their super-upset victory over Homegrown. But on this night, the Ballers nearly scored at will against the Bombers porous defense.
For his efforts that got the Ballers off and running, Blair was named the ‘B’tournament’s Most Valuable Player.