Alley-whoop: House dominates Senate in charity basketball game

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Feb. 11—SANTA FE — In a surprisingly energetic game that took less time than the House discussing the tax package, the New Mexico House of Representatives beat their counterparts in the Senate at a Thursday night basketball game.

Swapping chamber for court, the House reclaimed the title after a close game last year and dominated with a 12-point lead over the Senate.

"I really feel like this victory is one that we can continue throughout the years," Rep. Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe, said on the House floor Friday, before thanking the fans.

The Hoops for Hope charity game, hosted at the Santa Fe Indian School, raised more than $35,500 for the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center. All concessions purchases went toward a Santa Fe Indian School student trip to Washington, D.C.

Although Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham was in attendance, she didn't don a jersey — although she surely would've swung the game in favor of the executive office if she played, even in her high-heeled boots. Instead, she helped honor Eleanore Nestlerode, who retired after 25 years as an EMT supervisor with the Legislative Health Service.

First half

The House, repping the Aggies, faced off against the Senate, which donned the Lobos uniform.

The House's bipartisan starting five were Reps. G. Andrés Romero, D-Albuquerque; Andrea Romero, D-Santa Fe; Ryan Lane, R-Aztec; Nathan Small, D-Las Cruces; and Harlan Vincent, R-Glencoe.

Senate coach Eddie Nuñez tapped Sens. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell; Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras; Antonio "Moe" Maestas, D-Albuquerque; Joshua Sanchez, R-Veguita; and Greg Nibert, R-Roswell.

The House took an early lead in the first quarter. From the get-go, Andrea Romero, G. Andrés Romero and Lane showed impressive teamwork on the House side, giving a new meaning to "do pass."

Sometimes the legislators seemed to be playing different sports. Several players seemed to be imitating the Olympic luge, sliding around the court. Others seemed more comfortable with the bowling lane, as the ball rolled freely around the court.

The House cleaned up the first quarter 6-1.

In the second quarter, the House and Senate clawed the score up by a few points — perhaps a testament to the strength of the defense. The quarter made getting bills through the Legislature seem easy, as air balls and in-n-out shots abounded.

When the score bumped up to 8-7, with the House in the lead, Nuñez called his second timeout to give his senators some pointers. The coaches repeatedly called the timeouts to remind the lawmakers of their higher calling: basketball. Or maybe it was to give the tired lawmakers a break.

A few tense ref calls had the lawmakers nearly as heated as when they debate gun control or paid family and medical leave. The crowd booed when Sanchez made a shot some in the crowd and House players said landed after the whistle. Small held a tense committee with one of the referees over the disputed basket, making dribbling motions. But to no avail — the play was upheld.

Rubbing salt in the wound, the Senate was given a series of free throws. The score swung into the Senate's favor after the points. Free throws were deemed germane to the game; the Senate kept getting free throws all quarter.

The second quarter wrapped up 8-14, with the Senate in the lead.

Second half

Things started looking up for the House when Andrea Romero helped bump the score to 11-14 and Lane traveled across the court to land a three-pointer, nearly tying the game.

Halfway through the third quarter, the House regained its lead as Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Santa Fe, hyped up the crowd from the bench. Small sank a three-pointer as the quarter wrapped up, but fell short on his second shot.

Lt. Gov. Howie Morales attempted to be the deciding vote on the Senate side and stole the ball away. The team recruited the former senator by stealing one of the football helmets the NMSU grad keeps in his office.

After some defensive madness, sixth-term Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, the LeBron James of the New Mexico Legislature, landed the shot of the night. Ortiz y Pino pulled away from a fracas near the hoop to sink a shot from downtown.

"Once every 10 years I make a shot," Ortiz y Pino told the Journal after. "And it always drives the crowd up the wall."

Despite the Senate comeback, they couldn't withstand the House heat. In the last three seconds of the third quarter, upstart Rep. Cristina Parajón, D-Albuquerque, broke the tie between the two chambers with a last-second shot, taking it to 20-18. Rookie Parajón had the honor of carrying the trophy into the House chamber Friday afternoon.

The fourth quarter started with lawmakers taking friendly turns shooting the ball on each side of the court. The score quickly went 20-20, then 22-20, then 22-22.

The lawmakers returned to regular basketball with a three-pointer from one of the Romeros.

After that, a squabble on the court heated things up a little bit, and the refs had to step in for a moment.

Back to the peacefulness the lawmakers normally portray during the Legislature, another shot from Small had the score at 28-22. Things weren't looking too good for the Senate. Even a filibuster couldn't save them this far behind.

"When they triple teamed our 81-year-old senator, we knew it was game over," Maestas told the Journal after the game.

After some more "loose balls" in the last quarter, the lawmakers proved once more how they could pull off bowling in a basketball game. Remembering this is basketball, Small showed off some of his dribbling tricks, but Pirtle bumped him off rhythm.

After the Senate brought the game to 29-22, Maestas took a little nap on the floor of the court, seemingly forgetting that basketball is a game played standing.

"He sees the floor, he hits the floor, he feels the floor," the announcer boomed.

With minutes left, the House just kept making baskets. G. Andrés Romero made a crazy ball steal in the last minute and shot it across the court.

The game ended 34-22, with the representatives proving a three-hour debate limit cap doesn't cap their basketball skills.

The heat

NMSU Director of Intercollegiate Athletics Mario Moccia coached the House to victory. Nuñez said the House just outplayed the Senate in the third quarter.

Moccia said there was a lot of rivalry going on at the game — and trash talk between the two teams.

"There's probably less at an Aggie-Lobo game," Moccia said.

Indeed, Pirtle on the floor on Friday said the Senate showed the House what happens when they put in trash shots, or trash bills — the senators will take them down. He told the Journal after the game on Thursday he's glad he didn't blow his knee.

"The House fouls too much, and they all have bad attitudes. And I'm glad it's for charity," Pirtle said.

Small said there may have been one or two tough fouls, but it was a lot of fun.

"It was great to see everybody out there, and it's incredible to raise money for an incredible cause," he said.

Maestas said it's good the lawmakers are up for election so they can get in shape door-knocking. He said the House has three guys in phenomenal shape, so that made the difference in the game.

"If you're undecided in a race, you just go with the best basketball player," he advised voters.

Disclaimer: This is a largely satirical article. The writers of this article boast little to no knowledge of basketball. As a high school marching band member, Megan Gleason can attest to being near a basketball game at some point. Alaina Mencinger, hockey fan, has attended one Lobo basketball game and paid attention to none.