Two consecutive 3-point baskets by Armijo and another 3 from Jaquez gave PV separation Thursday night late in the fourth quarter, and multiple steals by Jaquez and the rest of the Panthers helped carry Piedra Vista to a 57-52 win that advances the Panthers into the District 1-4A tournament championship game.
"It was win or go home. We had to put the ball in the hole," Armijo said. "All of my shots felt good tonight. They just weren't going in the first three quarters. I was happy to increase our lead in the fourth and put the game away there."
The game was tied at 48 as time ticked down in the fourth quarter when Piedra Vista went on its run.
The Panthers shot just 10-of-30 in the first half, but only trailed 27-26 going into the break despite Kirtland Central's 12-of-20 shooting.
In the fourth quarter, the Panthers turned it around, shooting 7-of-12.
"PV wasn't hitting their shots for a long time, but they finally started hitting them," said Kirtland Central head coach John Zecca. "Give them credit for hanging around when they weren't making shots. That is scary when you know they aren't hitting their shots but they are hanging around. You know there is a chance they will catch fire at any time.
They are a good team with a lot of good senior leadership and I give them credit. They were the better team tonight."
Jaquez finished with a game-high 21 points, 10 of which came in the fourth quarter.
But it was his ability to get his hands on the ball and generate turnovers that helped the Panthers the most.
“Never back down. I wasn't going to let them get easy passes on the baseline to (Christian) Mackey,” Jaquez said. “Defensively, we had to be there. It was all about defense this game, because our offense wasn't there. We knew their guards struggle with ball pressure, and we knew they wouldn't handle it well.”
PV (15-13) forced 23 Kirtland Central (11-15) turnovers in the game.
“The story has been told. Our guards struggled with turnovers throughout the season. They stepped up at the end of the year and made a big difference for us, even tonight. But, there at the end, we had key mistakes that PV capitalized on,” Zecca said.
Armijo finished with 18 points for PV.
Mackey led the Broncos with 18 of his own, 12 of which came in the fourth quarter.
Coming into the game, PV's goal was to out-rebound the Broncos and hold Mackey to under 15. The Panthers succeeded, holding Mackey to under 10.
“Mackey's number to dominate games seems to be 15,” said PV head coach Adam Huff. “Our guys like (Isaiah Valdez), Shanahan (Wilson) and Satchel (Baker) played great team defense, and that included rebounding.”
Both teams had to battle questionable officiating, which has plagued much of the 2012-13 season across San Juan County.
“I think we have learned to handle the refs more lately,” said Armijo. “Our refs around here aren't the best. They try to make it their game sometimes. We can't do anything about it. We just have to keep playing.”
The loss likely meant the end of the season for the Broncos, Zecca said.
“Our chances are slim to none. I was looking at it today and I really thought we needed to win this game, otherwise PV would knock us out,” Zecca said. “Belen has made a run and so has Santa Fe lately. There are 13 teams I think are pretty much for sure in. I think the last three spots will be filled by Belen, PV and Santa Fe.”
Zecca knows his young team made great strides from Game 1 to Game 26 of the season, and he is hopeful the team can gain more mental strength going into next season.
“Skill-wise, we are really close. Our mental game just has to get better, and that comes with experience,” he said. “The one thing you worry about sometimes is the guys knowing they did a pretty good job this year and thinking ‘We are going to be seniors, we will win easily.' I have seen it happen before. Yeah, we are young and have a lot of kids coming back, but nothing is given. PV, Farmington and Aztec lose a lot of seniors, but they have young guys coming up who will be hungry. We have to keep getting better.”
Huff believes the Panthers are firmly locked into the No. 14 seed in the state tournament now.
But the Panthers aren't looking to state yet. They have their eyes set on one more game with Farmington High for the District 1-4A tournament championship on Saturday.
“It is a rivalry game. They have beat us twice this season and we beat them once, now we get to go prove who the better team is,” Jaquez said.
Said Armijo: “It feels great knowing we are going to state, but we still want to get this win at Farmington so bad.”
Huff is firing up his team by letting them know Farmington High head coach Paul Corley has already put up a ‘13 on the basketball district champions banner inside the FHS gym.
“Corley is real excited about it, so he is putting one up. I asked my athletic director when we put a banner number up, and he said only for a tournament championship,” Huff said. “I am firing up our guys with that. They put up 2013 district champs in their gym. We are going to go prove it wrong.”
John Livingston may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.