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Apr. 24—The District 2-5A boys basketball race tightened considerably Friday night.

Not only did Sandia hand visiting La Cueva its first loss of the season, but the ninth-ranked Matadors pulled into a virtual tie for first place in 2-5A with the third-ranked Bears following a 63-59 victory.

La Cueva (6-1, 6-1 in 2-5A) leads Sandia (5-1, 5-1) headed into the final week of the regular season, but only because the Bears have played one more game. La Cueva has three games next week, the Matadors four. La Cueva beat Sandia by eight points in the first meeting.

“I’m super proud of our guys, they grinded it out,” Sandia coach Danny Brown said.

Friday night, there were 10 lead changes just in the final 4:45 of the fourth quarter, starting with La Cueva’s first lead of the game at 49-48 after the Bears — who had six turnovers before their first field goal — had been chasing Sandia the entire way.

The last of the 10 was Ely Lovato’s three-point play for Sandia with 41.5 seconds remaining for a 60-59 lead.

His short jump shot came right on the heels of an Exodus Ayers’ 3-pointer for La Cueva on the prevous possession, which put the Bears in front 59-57. With teammates Sean Johnson and Alex Rosales already having fouled out for the Matadors, Lovato’s 10 fourth-quarter points took on added importance.

“I knew I needed to step up,” said Lovato, who finished with a team-best 24 points. “We lost one of our main players (Johnnson), but all the other players stepped up.”

Sandia shot 64.7 percent from the floor (22 of 34) for the game, and a blistering 75 percent in the second half (12 of 16). All of the Matadors’ field goals after halftime came within 3 or 4 feet of the basket, except for a 3-pointer by Shawn Gilbert.

“It really doesn’t surprise me,” Brown said. “Because our whole deal is transition and trying to score in the paint. And our kids did that excellently.”

Sandia now faces a daunting task next week, with four games in six days, including back-to-back games against Piedra Vista on Monday and Tuesday.

“We have not been in this spot, so how do we handle success?” Brown said. “That’s a big deal. We’ve never been in this situation.”

The most important of Sandia’s four games next week might be the matchup next Friday against Eldorado. The Eagles (2-1 overall and in 2-5A) play La Cueva twice next week as Eldorado returns to its season after being on hiatus for the last two weeks.

Ayers led all scorers with 26 points. Ced Yates added 13 points for the Bears.

“They were relentless on the glass and that’s almost what got us,” Brown said of La Cueva.

Johnson had 11 points, and was in foul trouble all night. Dalen Moyer also had 11 points and Rosales 10. In the end, it was Lovato who carried Sandia.

“Ely was good all game,” Brown said.

SANDIA 63, LA CUEVA 59

LA CUEVA (6-1, 6-1 in 2-5A): Exodus Ayers 26, Ced Yates 13, Gabe Trujillo 2, Ja’Shon Lowery 8, Kealan Atkinson 6, Kenner Grant 2, Gabe Saiz 2. Totals 20 17-23 59.

SANDIA (5-1, 5-1): Shawn Gilbert 7, Dalen Moyer 11, Alex Rosales 10, Ely Lovato 24, Sean Johnson 11. Totals 22 18-23 63.

La Cueva 10 14 14 21 — 59

Sandia 14 11 19 19 — 63

3-point goals: LC 2 (Ayers 2): S 1 (Gilbert). Total fouls: LC 21; S 18. Fouled out: S, Johnson, Rosales. Technicals: Sandia: bench, Johnson; LC: Grant.

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