By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
RIO RANCHO — The Dora Coyotes will go for their second Class 1A boys state championship in five years on Saturday.
Reserves Wesley Skelley (15) and Kyler Smith (14) combined for more than half the Coyotes’ points in a 54-47 semifinal victory over District 3-1A rival Elida on Thursday night at the Santa Ana Star Center.
Dora (23-6), which went 2-2 for the season against the Tigers, faces Gateway Christian, a 60-45 winner Thursday over Cimarron, in Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. finale at The Pit.
Eighth-seeded Elida (26-5), which put together its first winning season in a long time and was making its first trip to state since 1983, rode junior guard Wesley Gilmore’s 18 first-half points to a 30-26 lead at the intermission.
“I thought we played really good defense in the first half,” Elida coach Darrell Chenault said. “But they stepped up and started putting more pressure on us.”
Ryan Best’s 3-pointer made it 35-28 with 6:22 left in the third, but Dora outscored the Tigers 26-12 the rest of the way as Skelley recorded all of his points in the final 11 minutes.
“In the second half, I just drove the ball to the hole more,” said Skelley, a junior guard. “Once we got the lead, they had to foul us.”
Junior guard Hector Fierro’s 3-pointer with just under two minutes left in the third quarter gave Dora a 41-38 lead at period’s end. Elida went scoreless for 8 1/2 minutes, covering the end of the third quarter and most of the fourth.
The Tigers were within 49-47 with 33 seconds left after two free throws by Gilmore, but Skelly hit 3-of-4 free throws and Smith 2-of-2 in the remaining time for the Coyotes.
Gilmore, 7-of-7 from the field and 3-of-3 from the line at halftime against mainly a diamond-and-one defense, finished with 23 points. Dora went more straight man-to-man in the second half.
“I was hoping I would (stay hot),” Gilmore said. “(Dora’s) Casey O’Connor did a good job defending me in the second half and not letting me get open shots.”
Junior Clay Smith added 10 points for the Coyotes, seeded fourth in the tournament.
“We said all year long (these teams) matched up extremely well,” Chenault said.
“We’re rooting for Dora (in the finals); we wish them all the luck in the world.”