Lady Eagles take third at the Kirtland tournament

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For the first time since early 2009, the Belen High girls basketball team brought home a trophy from a tournament.

The Lady Eagles lost a close contest to host Kirtland Central, 39-38, in the semifinals Friday of the Webb Toyota Lady Bronco Invitational. They rebounded the next day to beat Colorado Class 5A team Fruita, 46-43, to take home the third place trophy.

"We had talked about the legacy of what you leave this team for other teams," said first-year coach Derek Atencio, whose Eagles (6-8) have doubled last season's win total. "Have we improved the program and advanced, or is it the same? The girls want to leave a legacy of advancing the program."

Belen has a small reprieve in the schedule before opening District 6-4A play at Los Lunas on Tuesday, Jan. 22.

"Without a doubt, this is one of the toughest districts in the state, regardless of classification," said Atencio, noting that Los Lunas and Valencia are both in the Class 4A top 10. "It will be a tough time for everybody in district.

"We are going to make people work exceptionally hard, and work their butts off to beat us. We just have to go play."

Kirtland was blown out by Four-Corners rival Shiprock in Saturday's championship of the tourney, 72-33.

Kirtland Central 38, Belen 37

Kaylyn Gomez's nearly half-court shot fell just short of the rim and the Kirtland fans breathed a sigh of relief, as the Eagle rally fell one point short.

Sainz gave Belen a 37-36 lead by a point by hitting a free throw with less than 30 seconds left.

Belen trapped Bronco point guard Taylor Billey in the corner after she got the ball past half court. She broke the trap with a pass over the Belen defenders to Taylor Miller, who scored her only two points of the game to give Kirtland (4-9) the lead with eight seconds left, 38-37.

Atencio also was screaming for a time out after the Miller shot, but it was not granted until the clock had moved to slightly more than two seconds left.

"I thought their player stepped on the sideline," said Atencio.

In an evenly-played contest, Kirtland hit four 3-pointers, while the Eagles went 0-for-15 from beyond the arc. In the first half, the Broncos had a hard time getting going.

"We had a really good trap," said Atencio.

He noted that the Eagles usually are a good shooting team, especially from 3-point range.

"It was good shooters shooting good shots," he said of the Belen 3-point attempts. "When you are playing on that floor against that team it makes a difference in front of a packed house."

Forde led Belen with 12 points, Gomez scored nine, Sainz had seven, Garley-Moore had five and Rodriguez scored four points.

Belen 39, Fruita 36

Trailing 35-28 at the end of the third quarter, the Eagles knew that they would have to step up defensively.

"The kids really dug in," said Atencio, noting that they listened to assistant coach Danny Griego.

They listened so well, that they did not allow a field goal in the final eight minutes — the Wildcats (8-4) managed only one free throw.

"They refused to let them have anything," said Atencio. "We played what we played the best, and mixed it up a little bit. They had looks, but they did not put them down."

Kristian Sainz and Jordan Rodriguez led the way offensively for Belen with Rodriguez scoring 12 and Sainz 11.

But for the second straight game, the Eagles failed to cash in from behind the 3-point line.

"It is a very different gym," said Atencio of the sunken floor and Pit-like atmosphere. "The sight lines are different. I can see where it would through off a shooter."

Fruita held Mariah Forde to just eight points, four of which came in the first half at the free throw line. The game was close at halftime, with the Wildcats owning an 18-17 edge.

Alexis Olguin and Monica Garley-Moore rounded out the Eagle scoring with four points each.


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