The end of three District games in six nights at Alpine’s gym came with a thud on Feb. 18. Senior Night satisfaction gave way to disbelief as the Fightin’ Bucks dropped their final home game of the season to Tornillo 51-41. The 7-3 Coyotes captured second place with their win, while Alpine now battles Anthony on Friday for third in a tiebreaker at a neutral site.
The Bucks bested Anthony last Friday 75-70. The game was knotted at 33 at halftime, but Alpine surged ahead in the third quarter with clutch threes from Aiden Morrissey and Isaiah Nuñez. Senior Jeremiah Muse had eight points in the third, and the Bucks hit 12 of 19 fourth quarter free throw attempts to outlast the Wildcats.
But after the loss to Tornillo on Tuesday, Muse looked dazed standing on the court with his fellow class of 2020 graduates, teammates, and friends around him. The starting lineup had featured all five seniors - Aaron Fellows, Bryon Garrett, Nata Gerena, Justin Miller, and Muse.
“It’s just a special group of guys,” Muse said. “After four years, you become like family. It’s an experience I’m going to treasure for the rest my life. Sure, we didn’t win District, we didn’t get second, but we still have a chance to make a run in the playoffs.”
Miller almost went through the entire season without a field goal, so when he hit the first bucket on Senior Night, the crowd and his teammates erupted. Other than a single free throw by Brady Crump, however, no one else scored for the Bucks over the next 10 minutes of play.
A quick 9-0 run by Alpine tied the game 12-12 in the second quarter, but that was as close as the Bucks would come. Jesus Delgado led Tornillo with 22 points.
“That’s probably the worst we played offensively all year,” Alpine Head Coach Hugh Morrissey said after trying to find some silver lining to share with his team in the locker room. “A big part of it is that we didn’t have any energy. We didn’t look like we were having any fun. That definitely wasn’t our best effort, and that’s a reflection on me. Friday we're going to be playing for third or fourth. At this point if we can’t get up for that then what can you get up for?”
The Coyotes came into Alpine with momentum after taking down the District champions from Crane (9-1) on Feb. 14. The Bucks had tried to duplicate that feat two nights earlier on Feb. 12, but lost 68-60 to the Golden Cranes.
The game was pushed back a day because of inclement weather, so the anticipation had reached a fever pitch by tip off last Wednesday. The Alpine student section was overflowing in the packed Buck Dome. The entire men’s basketball team from Sul Ross was in the house, and Crane had a bus load of their students accompany their team to the showdown as well. The battle between both sidelines was on.
Alpine led at halftime 33-28, but some cold stretches and defensive breakdowns gave Crane the edge in the third quarter. Three three-pointers by Jorhan Velasco helped keep the Cranes on top, and they got to celebrate a third straight District title on Alpine’s home floor. Aiden Morrissey led all scorers with 22 points.
The noisy night versus Crane was the end, for now, of District games between the Bucks and the Cranes. For more than 20 years, the two schools would play each other twice a year, but they will be in separate basketball districts beginning next season.
Crane senior Brandon Cerna took it all in on Feb. 12, and knows what will be missing next season.
“This hostility, this fun, everyone getting rowdy,” said Cerna. “Everybody’s against each other, but at the end of the day it’s just hugs and handshakes.”