The Robertson Cardinals ran past the Ruidoso Warriors Wednesday afternoon to earn themselves a trip back to The Pit with a 67-44 quarterfinal victory.

“I thought we played with great intensity on the defensive end with an urgency that I’ve been stressing over the last couple of weeks,” RHS head coach James Branch said. “That’s pretty much what defines us and we did a heck of a job today.”

Jesse drive

Jesse James Gonzales drives to the basket during Robertson's quarterfinal win over Ruidoso

In the very first game of the season back on Dec. 2 it took a fourth quarter comeback for Robertson to defeat Ruidoso 55-51. There was a big difference in personnel this time around though, as the Cardinals were without Ace Gonzalez, Bodie Schlinger, Ken Montoya and Mateo Contreras in that first contest. This time around they all played and they made an impact. Ace Gonzalez got the Cardinals going offensively with a three-pointer from the left corner, Schlinger hauled in a game-high 15 rebounds to go along with 12 points, Contreras had 11 points off the bench, and Montoya was the center of an unbelievable start for the Cardinals.

While the December contest was close and hard fought, this quarterfinal game was one-sided almost from the outset. The Warriors got out ahead in the opening minutes 6-3, but once Montoya got a fast-break layup to give the Cardinals their first lead of the game, the avalanche began. That layup was the first two of 10 straight points by Montoya in just 1:14 in the middle of a 14-0 Robertson run that almost immediately put the game out of reach.

“I just try to make the right play, whether it’s passing the ball, scoring or getting rebounds,” Montoya said. “They were just manned up really right, they were leaving the lane open and I just tried to take advantage of that.” 

Ken down court

Ken Montoya leads the Cardinal fastbreak Wednesday in the quarterfinals against Ruidoso.

At the end of the first quarter, Robertson was up 27-10 after making 60% of their shots from the floor, four of five from the three-point line and shot 100% from the free throw line. Of the many things that the Cardinals did well to start the game, their pace was notable. Consistently, the Cardinals were beating the Warriors down the floor, and had their defense scrambling, leading to open shots that kept widening the margin.

“That’s how we’re supposed to play, with the pace and get back on defense,” Branch said. “We did that, which like I said that’s what won us the game.”

As great as the Cardinals were offensively to start the game, their effort defensively and on the glass was equally as important. In the first half the Cardinals outrebounded the Warriors 28-10, with Nathaniel Gonzales already having 10 rebounds going into the locker room. The Cardinals held Ruidoso to just one offensive rebound compared to 10 of their own and held the Warriors to just 27% shooting in the first half.

Montoya was the one that got the Cardinals started, and it was Schlinger who played the role of finisher in the contest. The Cardinals led by as many as 25, and while the game was all that close after the first quarter  the Warriors did cut the lead to 16 with five minutes left in the game and appeared to have a little bit of momentum. In the first three quarters Schlinger was impactful with his rebounding, but in the fourth quarter he started scoring, putting in eight of his 12 points in the game’s final period to put the final touches on a dominant Robertson victory. 

The Cardinals win in Rio Rancho earns them a trip to The Pit on Friday to face the winner of Navajo Prep and Santa Fe Indian School. The last time the Cardinals were at The Pit, they were lifting the blue trophy a season ago, and head coach James Branch referred to it in the locker room postgame as his favorite place on Earth. 

Tipoff for Robertson’s semifinal contest is set for 1:15 p.m. Friday.


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