TOdam Montoya offered a prayer 10 months ago.
It was answered Wednesday night.
Ten months ago, St. Michael’s Montoya fired a 30-foot shot at the end of regulation that could have won a Class 3A quarterfinal at Albuquerque Sandia Prep, but it just hit backboard.
Faced with similar circumstances Wednesday, Montoya made good on his second chance. The senior’s double-clutch baseline jumper hit every inch of iron before nestling into the net with 7 seconds left, and teammate Devin Flores capped a 41-40 win over Navajo Prep in Perez-Shelley Gymnasium with a steal to preserve a spot in the 3A semifinals.
The fourth-seeded Horsemen, who inched their way above .500 for the first time this season at 15-14, play No. 1 Socorro at 7:30 pm Friday in the Rio Rancho Events Center for a spot in the 3A championship game Saturday in The Pit.
But Montoya’s shot was a moment of redemption – more for his teammates than himself. His desperation miss against the Sundevils last season merely sent the game into overtime, which Sandia Prep won by a 43-42 count.
But it was the image of a crestfallen Montoya in the moments after that loss in May, with his head between his knees and his hands holding his shoes as he sat on the floor in emotional pain, that lingered after Flores missed a jumper that could have won it.
This time, he joined Flores and the jubilant Horsemen student section in celebration after he ran out the clock on the upset-minded Eagles (18-9).
“Same moment – maybe not the same kind of shot – but the game’s on the line, last shot,” Montoya said.
This time, the ball was in Montoya’s hands, but he was looking for Flores, who had 20 points and carried his team to the finish line. The Eagles, though, were prepared for that and had the senior wing blanketed.
Montoya then put the outcome upon his shoulders, driving the baseline from the left wing before pulling up about 5 feet from the basket. His right arm di lui took contact from a Navajo Prep defender, which caused him to adjust his shot in mid-air before releasing it.
It crept over the side rim, then rattled around before going in.
Horsemen interim head coach Gerard Garcia proved himself prescient by letting Montoya how the final moments would play out during a time late in the game.
“I told him it was going to be his time at the end of the game,” Garcia said. “I said, ‘It’s gonna be your time to shine, because they are going to be shadowing Devin.’ “
The ending made up for a disappointing overall performance for Montoya. While he finished with eight points, he only had two in the first half as he was saddled with two fouls and sat on the bench. He played the last 4 minutes with four fouls and missed a 1-and-1 situation with 1:25 left that could have padded a 39-36 lead.
Instead, it opened the door for the pesky Eagles, who used tough defense to overcome deficits of eight (18-10), nine (29-20) and seven (35-28).
First, Orion King scored on a putback with 58 seconds left to cut the margin to 39-38. Flores then missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 39.5 seconds left, and Navajo Prep’s Dontrelle Donetso made the Horsemen pay when he knocked down a jumper that was an inch away from being a 3-pointer from the right wing with 26 ticks left.
It was the Eagles’ first lead since 10-9 late in the opening quarter.
Both teams flexed their defensive muscles for much of the game. The Horsemen hit just 14 of 47 shots, while Navajo Prep went 17-for-45. However, St. Michael’s was 4-for-10 from the perimeter, while the Eagles hit their first triple, then missed their last 13 shots from deep.
“We knew not to overlook them,” Flores said. “They’re a pretty good ball club. Defensively, they are really active and they get into the passing lanes. Offensively, they just push the ball. “
The Eagles forced 11 turnovers, but the they turned the ball over 16 times. They had a stretch in the second quarter in which they had turnovers on three straight possessions, which helped St. Michael’s fashion a 9-0 run for an 18-10 lead.
But the Eagles cleaned up their ball-handling and stiffened up on defense, as the Horsemen missed 13 of 14 shots at one point. That helped Navajo Prep tie the score at 20-all at the half.
When St. Michael’s regained the lead at 29-20 on Montoya’s 16-footer with 4:06 left in the third, the Eagles again were patient and efficient, cutting the margin to 33-28 on King’s layup with 26 seconds left.
Flores had an answer every time the Eagles threatened the lead. He hit two free throws to end the third quarter, and when Navajo Prep got within 35-34 on King’s layup, Flores answered with a steal and transition layup for a 37-34 lead that halted at 3:30 scoreless drought for St. Michael’s .
If anything has defined the second half of the Horsemen’s season, in which they won 13 of their last 15 games after a 2-12 start to the season, it has been perseverance.
They withstood an 0-10 start, the absence of Montoya when he was academically ineligible and the loss of head coach David Rodriguez, who remains on leave amid an investigation in allegations of verbal abuse and racism.
Flores and Montoya said the adversity drew the team together, and has marked their ability to navigate the choppy waters.
“We’re starting to prove we are the same team everyone expected at the beginning of the year,” Montoya said. “It just feels great to finally prove ourselves, especially against the one-seed [Socorro]. “
While a prayer was answered, it might reveal something bigger. St. Michael’s is on a mission, and the next step is to do what no one believed was possible just six weeks ago.
A team that was once 0-10 might just play for a state title.