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Rough first quarter dooms Santa Fe Prep in loss to Navajo Prep

Mar. 13—RIO RANCHO — Santa Fe Prep showed it could play with one of the best teams in the state for three quarters.

It was just that one quarter that put the Blue Griffins in a bind.

If not for a horrific first quarter in which Santa Fe Prep played a step slow and a bit timid against second-seeded Navajo Prep in a Class 3A quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon, it might have kept its season alive.

Instead, the Eagles rushed out to a 21-8 lead after a quarter, pushed the margin to as much as 15 points in the first half before outlasting both the Blue Griffins and foul trouble in a 66-56 win in the Rio Rancho Events Center.

Navajo Prep will play in Friday morning's semifinal against either No. 6 St. Michael's or No. 3 Santa Fe Indian School.

It was Prep's first appearance in the arena since the 2014-15 squad reached the semifinals, and it showed for much of the first half. The Blue Griffins weren't helped that junior guard Morgan Field was not 100% as he dealt with the stomach flu.

Nobody wearing navy blue and white felt good when Navajo Prep (24-4) exploded from the gate, hitting four 3-pointers in the first 6 minutes and torching the Blue Griffins' 2-3 zone defense at a 10-for-13 clip from the field. When Xavier Nez drained a 12-footer with 6 seconds left in the quarter, their lead was 13 points.

"That's a very good basketball team and we knew they shoot the ball very well," Prep head coach Joe Vigil said. "We were a little flat on our rotations, a little slow getting out. ... "I think we were a little nervous. It's been a while since we've been here."

There was only one thing that stopped the Eagles, though, from turning the game into a rout — fouls. First, 6-foot-3 post Orion King picked up two fouls in the first quarter. Then it was Nez. And Wallen Descheeney.

Suddenly, Navajo Prep head coach Matt Melvin was in damage control, having to sit the trio and using a stall at one point to try and get through the half with the large lead.

"That was the one thing we didn't want and that really changed our game plan from the jump," Melvin said.

By early in the third quarter, the number of fouls with at least two fouls grew to six. Not surprisingly, the margin shrunk along with it.

Prep (18-13) used a closing 6-3 run to trim a 32-17 deficit to 35-23 at the half, then exploded for nine unanswered points as it attacked the smaller Eagles at will. Mitch Grover scored seven of the points, and his three-point play off a floater in the lane with 4:25 left in the third saw the deficit down to 35-32. It was the highlight of a 22-point performance for the senior.

"I thought we did a really good job at getting to the hoop, at least," Grover said. "Early in the game, there were some missed layups that hurt our momentum, but right from the start, I wanted to get going."

Navajo Prep navigated the storm by that point. Melvin put in his starters, and the response was immediate: a Nez 16-footer and a 22-foot 3 by Jude Thomas made it 40-32 in 47 seconds. That was part of a larger 11-4 spurt that saw the lead grow to 49-36 on Nez's 18-footer with 4 seconds left in the quarter.

"I think we were a little tired, and that's why I called a timeout or two," Vigil said. "There was a turnover or two that contributed to that. We knew they were a very good offensive-rebounding team. They crash the boards hard, even their guards. They got a couple of opportunities on second and third looks because we didn't do as good a job at boxing out like we should have."

Prep never quite went away, getting within eight points twice in the fourth quarter, but the presence of King made a big difference. While he only had six points, he grabbed six offensive rebounds. Two came in the fourth, as he scored four of his six points.