RIO RANCHO — The Fort Sumner Foxes were two minutes from elimination Wednesday night. Now they’re four quarters away from their first state championship.
Rawley Stallard had a game-high 26 and Berry Stinnett 19, and the upstart Foxes upset defending champion Cliff 68-56 in Thursday’s game at the Santa Ana Star Center.
The Foxes will make their fourth title game appearance in school history — their first since 1958 — at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at The Pit against either Dora or Springer.
Fort Sumner never trailed, and hit six of their first seven shots and succeeded in making the defending champion Cowboys (29-3) a one-man show. The Foxes got points from six different players in the first while the Cowboys only got production from 6-foot-4 junior Ethan Shelley for the first 12 minutes.
“We’re very unselfish; we’re a team,” Foxes coach John Wooton said. “They’re a bunch of guys who like each other, like to be around each other.”
It was the ultimate mismatch in tournament experience. The Cowboys have won eight championships under Pete Shock since 1981, and Tuesday’s 61-60 win over Tatum was the Foxes’ third state tournament game win since 1980.
And Fort Sumner (19-9) was almost sent packing Tuesday, but survived with a 10-0 Tatum run in the final two minutes.
But the history mattered little at the Star Center, where the top-seeded Cowboys had turnovers on their first six possessions as Fort Sumner jumped to a 14-2 advantage. Cliff didn’t hit a field goal until Shelley got a post-up basket with 2:08 to go in the first, and trailed by as much as 18 against the fast-breaking Foxes until a 3-point barrage from Luis Apodaca got the Cowboys to within single digits.
“It took us forever to even get a shot off,” Shock said. “We had the “deer in the headlights” look early on. Not only did we turn it over, but we gave up as many points on breakouts as we probably had in the last seven games combined.”
Shelley had 25 points and a game-high 10 boards, but worked for everything he got against a swarming Fox defense.
“We had our little guards guarding him, and we tried to collapse on him,” said Stinnett, who added nine rebounds while handling much of the help defense against Shelley.
Shelley noticed the attention, and was still trying to catch his breath in the media interview room.
“They had a lot of help from different sides,” Shelley said. “They all played tough, and they’re a really good basketball team.”
Shelley scored his last basket on a three-point play with 2:55 left to cut the Fox lead to 55-49, and after the teams traded baskets for the next two minutes, Stinnett scored on a two-man break with Stallard with 48 seconds left to make it 61-53, Fort Sumner hit 7-of-12 from the line to close things out.