Tigers can’t hang with Desert Warriors in season opener; fall 59-51

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It would have been a tall order for Los Lunas to start the boys basketball season off on a winning note under new head coach Travis Julian.

Mike Stearns-News-Bulletin photo: Ben Romero prepares to go up for a shot in the Los Lunas boys basketball team’s season opener Saturday. The Tigers, who lost 59-51 in the opener to Santa Teresa, are set to play at Centennial in Las Cruces on Saturday.

The Tigers had a lot of state championship interference in starting their season, with the first home game taking place at the same time as the Los Lunas football team was winning its Class 4A state semifinal game at Aztec.

In the end, Santa Teresa withstood a furious fourth-quarter Tiger rally, and escaped the Tiger Athletic Center with a 59-51 win.

Defending Class 4A basketball state champion Santa Teresa would take a 28-19 lead into the locker room.

Los Lunas would hold its own against the tough Desert Warriors, in spite of missing six players that were on the football team, possibly two starters in Chris Sanchez and Jacob Holland.

Los Lunas was set to put its 0-1 record on the line Tuesday with a scheduled visit to Bernalillo in a game scheduled for after the News-Bulletin press time. They will travel to first-year high school Centennial, in Las Cruces, for a 2:30 p.m. game on Saturday, Dec. 8.

Transfer Ben Romero gave the Tiger fans something to look forward to, especially when they get their full compliment of players from the football team.

Romero scored 28 points and six of the first eight for Los Lunas as the Tigers raced out to an 8-0 edge. Santa Teresa tied the contest at 8-all at the end of the first quarter.

Warrior leading scorer Manny Zermeno sparked an 11-0 run for Santa Teresa to give STHS a 21-12 lead it would not relinquish.

“The lack of depth that we have right now caused us to play two poor quarters. Santa Teresa was patient on offense for the most part and really made us defend,” said Romeo.

The teams played fairly even through the third quarter with Santa Teresa pulling slightly ahead with Romero in foul trouble. He picked up his fourth foul with 4:04 left in the third period. The Warriors built their biggest lead of the afternoon, 43-29, at the end of the third quarter.

With just over four minutes left in the game, Los Lunas went on a small run to close it to 49-39.

Romero then aggressively drove in from the right wing and banked it off the glass to narrow the game to an 8-point Santa Teresa edge.

He was fouled, but missed the free throw.

After the Warriors turned the ball over on a charge, Romero stroked a trey from the deep left corner to cut the lead to 49-44.

Jacob Fernandez, who had 17 points in the game, answered with a layup at the other end to make it 51-44 in favor of the Warriors.

The Warriors had built the lead to 54-48 when Romero fouled out with 1:37 left in the game.

But the Tigers didn’t give in. When Marcus Mendoza found Dakota Eward inside on a give-and-go, the Tigers had cut the lead to 54-50.

The offense had several shots in the final minute, but could not score from the floor. Santa Teresa put it away from the foul line to secure a 59-51 win.

“We shot way too many 3-pointers, and we did not shoot a good percentage from the 3-point line,” said Julian. “In the end, I think that really had an effect on the game.”

Romero led the scoring for Los Lunas with 28 points. Eward had 10 and Mullins scored seven.

Julian was happy with the effort the Tigers showed in coming back in the fourth quarter. He was also pleased with the effort after Romero fouled out.

“They are going to compete regardless of who is on the floor,” said Julian. “That is what we are trying to do is build that competitive toughness. That showed up with Ben in the game, and with Ben out.”