Lady Eagles play Demonettes tough; win tourney opener

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Two games told a lot about the Belen High girls basketball team this week.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Belen’s Ari Valdez looks to pass in Tuesday’s home loss to Santa Fe High. The Lady Eagles edged Navajo Pine on Thursday in the first round of a tournament in Kirtland, where they will play their final game of the tourney on Saturday.

The Lady Eagles played well at times in a 55-42 home loss to undefeated Santa Fe High on Tuesday. Belen got enough things right to beat a small, fast Navajo Pine team, 45-43, in Thursday’s first round of the Webb Toyota Bronco Invite, held in Kirtland.

The Thursday win gave the Eagles a 5-7 record. They were set to face Kirtland in the winner’s semifinals of the tourney after News-Bulletin press time in the tourney, and will conclude its Kirtland trip with a game Saturday against either Shiprock or Fruita, Colo.

The Eagles will then be idle until their Tuesday, Jan. 22 trip to Los Lunas for the District 6-4A opener.

“We’re trying to build, and trying to learn,” said Belen’s first-year coach, Dereck Atencio. “If we can duplicate what we did with the second, third and fourth quarters of the Santa Fe High game, four quarters of that level of effort would be great.”

Belen 45, Navajo Pine 43

Kristian Sainz’s layup with about eight seconds left in Thursday’s first-round game of the Kirtland tourney ended up being the winning basket.

Jordan Rodriguez made two free throws with about 30 seconds left to tie the game at 43-43. The Warriors (5-3) then turned the ball over, and Mariah Forde got the ball to Rodriguez, who lobbed a pass for Sainz, who scored.

A missed shot and excellent defense just before the buzzer kept the Warriors from tying the game.

“Navajo Pine is extremely fast, and they shoot well from outside,” said Atencio. “We did not have a good second quarter.”

The Warriors have played in the last three Class 2A state championship games.

The teams were tied at 15-15 after one quarter on Thursday, but Navajo Pine led 27-21 at the half. Belen tied the game by the end of the third quarter, 35-35.

Neither team shot free throws well, with Belen going 6-of-14 (4-of-12 aside from Rodriguez’s game-tying makes) and the Warriors were 5-of-13.

Mariah Forde led all scorers in the game with 19 points, including all three of her team’s 3-pointers. Sainz added 10.

Navajo Pine hit six 3-pointers. Kaitlin Chee and Demetria Clichee each had 11 points.

Santa Fe High 55, Belen 42

Facing one of the quickest, biggest, most organized teams in Class 4A, the Eagles were able to get open looks at times, but simply turned the ball over too often, and gave up too many rebounds against the Demonettes (13-0).

Belen trailed by double digits most of the game, and didn’t score from the field for the first nine minutes of the game. But the determination of Forde and other guards helped the Eagles stay in the game, pulling to within nine points a few times, but the Demonettes seemed to have too many weapons.

After the Eagles pulled to within 48-39 with 2:43 to go, a combination of Belen misses and turnovers and Santa Fe layups, stalls and free throws sealed the decision.

Belen trailed 12-1 early before clawing back, cutting the lead to seven points twice in the first half. A late second-quarter surge put the Demonettes up 30-17 at the half.

The Eagles were able to get backcourt and perimeter steals, but when Santa Fe got into its offense, the Demonettes were tough to stop — especially when they got the ball in deep.

Neither team shot particularly well, and both teams had a lot of second-chance points. Belen had a rough night with turnovers, especially in making bad passes.

Santa Fe’s 6-foot, 2-inch sophomore, Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage, had 21 points. Kayla Herrera added 12 for the Demonettes.

Forde had 15 for the Eagles. She was 6-of-9 from the free-throw line; the rest of her team went 4-for-13.

Sainz had seven points. Ari Valdez earned applause when she fouled out after a night of guarding much larger players, and she and Kaylyn Gomez each had five points.


-- Email the author at jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.