By Dave Wagner
On paper, the Texico Wolverines look like they’ll be a tough out in the 2005 boys EPAC Tournament, which begins today.
For one thing, the Wolverines have been in the finals for four consecutive years, winning in 2001 and 2004. For another, because of a scheduling conflict at Eastern New Mexico University’s Greyhound Arena, the entire tournament will be played in Texico.
The Wolverines are seeded No. 1 in the 4A bracket of the tournament and lead the 10-team field with a 9-0 record, including wins over four EPAC participants.
Still, 16th-year Texico coach Richard Luscombe is wary.
“Being seeded No. 1 on either side, it just means that everybody is going to come after you,” Luscombe said. “The bottom (seeds) are capable of coming up and beating you.”
Fort Sumner (7-2) won a tiebreaker from Melrose to earn the No. 1 seed in the 3A bracket. The top seeds have a first-day bye before swinging into action on Wednesday.
The senior-laden Wolverines have four players averaging in double figures, led by 6-foot-2 post Braden Vaughan (18 ppg). They are the only team in their bracket with a winning record.
One of Texico’s closest game so far this season was a three-point verdict over Melrose in the semifinals of a tournament at Farwell in December. The Wolverines also have a one-point win over Sudan, Texas.
“We know Melrose can play with us,” Luscombe said, “and I would assume that Fort Sumner has the ability to contend.”
Melrose, under former Floyd coach Casey Pack, relies heavily on junior guard Carlos Ruiz (15.5 ppg, 8 apg) and senior post Caleb Dodd (13.3 ppg).
“Texico’s always a good team,” said Pack, in his third season with the Buffaloes after eight years at Floyd. “They have a strong inside game and a strong outside game.
“I think we have a chance. Some balls are going to have to bounce our way, but anything can happen.”
Dora, which beat Texico in the 2002 EPAC finals, is a junior-heavy squad which could have the talent to make a run despite a 4-7 record against a challenging early schedule. The Coyotes are the only 3A team with a sub-.500 record.
Junior forwards Tyler Wilhoit (20 ppg) and J.R. Gonzales (11 ppg) have carried the load so far for the Coyotes, who lost at home early this season to Texico.
“I think Texico is the favorite,” coach Ty Thatcher said. “They’ve played a pretty decent schedule, and they’ve beaten some good teams.”
Still, Thatcher believes his squad can make some noise despite being the bottom seed in 3A.
“I feel like we’ve been tested and we’ve responded,” he said. “Nobody likes to go in as the fifth seed, but I think we’re in pretty good shape.”