Near the end of Estancia’s March 5 playoff game against the Lordsburg Mavericks, Bears head coach Daniel Pierce took a few steps onto the floor and gestured with his hands behind his ears to the home crowd on the opposite side of the court, as if to suggest, “I can’t hear you.”
The crowd responded with thunderous applause.
Thanks to a pivotal fourth-quarter surge that was largely carried by senior Kody Larson, it was clear in the waning seconds of the game that the host Bears were on the verge of capturing a victory in the first round of the Class 2A boys basketball state tournament—Estancia’s first playoff win in four years.
After owning the first half and leading by 12 points midway through the third quarter, the Bears got into foul trouble and Pierce had to go to his bench. The scrappy ninth-seeded Mavericks capitalized with a flurry of 3-point shots and pulled within two points at the end of the third.
But the No. 8 Bears showed the sturdiness needed to withstand the Mavericks’ attempted stampede and rode a decisive fourth quarter to a 62-55 victory.
“We pulled it out, and it was what we had to do,” Pierce said.
Senior Roman Moran started the game with a 3-point splash in the opening 30 seconds and scored the Bears’ first 8 points.
“It just like started us off strong, and just helped us keep our heads up and stuff,” Moran said about his opening spurt.
Estancia shot 69% in the first quarter, as Adrian “A.Z.” Lucero hit a jump shot, Juri Burelsmith sank a pair of layups, and Dre Moreno drained a pair of 3-pointers near the end of the frame to give the Bears a 25-17 lead.
Moreno opened the second quarter with another 3, Levi Burelsmith deposited a sweet back-door layup, and Larson sandwiched two layups around a pair of free throws to put the Bears up 37-28 at halftime.
Midway through the third quarter, Moran hit a fast break layup and the Bears were sitting on a 12-point cushion. But when he drew his fourth foul, Pierce had to sit him for a spell.
Lordsburg then mounted a 12-2 run to close out the third quarter and trim the Bears’ lead to 47-45.
“I think we got a little nervous there cuz it’s the first round of the playoffs, and you know, we haven’t been through this a lot,” Lucero said.
But in the fourth quarter, the Bears stomped on the gas pedal, leaving Lordsburg in the dust—and Larson, like a gladiator determined not to lose his final battle in his home arena, carried Estancia across the finish line.
With just over six minutes remaining in the game, Larson blocked a Lordsburg shot with his meaty palm. The Bears grabbed the ball and got it to Moreno who hit a 3-pointer to cap a 5-0 run.
Moments later, Larson drove the lane for a layup, and then added a pair of free throws with 4:05 to go.
With three minutes remaining, Moran—who had reentered the game—got the ball on the left wing and drew a pair of Lordsburg defenders, leaving Larson wide open in the paint. Moran fired the ball to Larson who sank an uncontested layup as the crowd roared, “BEARS! BEARS! BEARS!”
“I saw them go to Roman, and I was like, that’s my opportunity,” Larson said. “I knew Roman was gonna see me, he always sees me, and I slipped it in and did what I do.”
With 2:25 left, Larson drove the lane one last time for a layup to put the Bears up by 10 points.
“They got some momentum, and we knew what we had to do at that point, like, we had to hit shots and we had to D-up, so we just banded together, it was a team win, 100 percent,” Larson said. He scored a game-high 19 points.
“Kody’s a special player,” Pierce added. “He kinda took a back seat in the first half, he trusted his teammates, and then when it came down to it, Kody decided, ‘OK, it’s time for me to take over,’ and that’s exactly what he did.”
Lordsburg sank one last meaningless 3 with two minutes remaining in the game, but the Bears responded with a layup by Juri Burelsmith on an assist from Larson with just over a minute to go.
With 15 seconds left on the clock, Pierce—getting his first playoff win since 2018—stepped on to the court and motioned to the fans for more noise.
“I’m blessed to be in a community like this and to be able to work with kids like these every single day,” Pierce said, adding, “I told the boys, playoff basketball is different than any other game you will play all year long. This is it, you lose and you’re done, everybody’s fighting for the same goal—trying to be state champs at the end.”
Moran scored 14 points. Moreno finished with 12 on four 3-pointers. Juri Burelsmith added 10 points.
With the win, the Bears advanced to the state quarterfinals and play March 9 at No. 1 Tularosa.