Lady Tigers edged by Hope in tourney final; Grants is next

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The girls championship of the Hope Christian Invitational basketball tournament came down to a partial-blocked 3-point attempt Saturday, which allowed the host Class 3A Huskies to survive a 4A Los Lunas rally and win the title game, 54-52.

Mike Stearns-News-Bulletin photo: Alyssa Vigil drives to the basket during Saturday’s Hope Christian Invite championship game, shooting over the Huskies’ Robyn Walker. The Tigers lost, 54-52, and will travel to Grants for a 7 p.m. game on Friday night.

The Tigers (12-3 after Saturday) dive right into District 6-4A play as they were set to host Belen on Tuesday in a game scheduled for after News-Bulletin press time.

Grants (8-7) will face the Zellers on Friday’s visit to the Pirates’ home court. Coach Marty Zeller and 6-foot, 2-inch daughter, Teige, will be making their first appearance at Grants since the pair moved to Los Lunas last spring.

“I’m sure that it will be a little bit strange, but nice as well,” said coach Zeller. “Of course, it is a game we have long been anticipating, Teige and myself, but I think every one of the players are anticipating every game they play. Every single game counts. We are not looking ahead to anyone (else).”

Los Lunas had an easy path to the Hope Christian title game, easily beating Socorro in the first round and downing Hatch Valley in Friday’s semifinals, 54-29.

Trailing Hope Christian by double digits most of the game, the Tigers went on a 13-1 run to tie the game at 52-52 with less than a minute to go.

Los Lunas got a turnover with 18 seconds left, but could not get the ball upcourt against the Huskies’ press. The ensuing scramble for the ball ended with a foul being whistled against Murphy. Hope Christian’s Ali Heisey made both free shots to give the Huskies a 54-52 edge.

The Tigers moved the ball quickly upcourt and Tapia’s shot inside missed without a whistle being blown, despite heavy contact. The rebound was kicked out to Dominique Pohl about four feet behind the arc, with two seconds remaining. She eyed the potentially game-winning attempt, but Hope’s Kasey Howington was able to barely graze the ball off Pohl’s hand, causing the ball to drop just short of the rim.

Down 51-39, the Tigers came back to tie the game with four straight free throws from Pohl. Gaerlan hit a trey just before that to give Los Lunas some much needed momentum.

The title game did not start off well for the Tigers as they could not get past the physical Husky defense to get the ball inside to Zeller. Howington’s seven points led Hope Christian to an 18-5 lead after the first quarter.

Zeller scored eight of her 19 points in the second quarter as Los Lunas pulled to within 29-19 at halftime.

“Hope grabbed the game early the last time, too,” said coach Zeller, mindful of the 69-54 loss earlier in the season to Hope. “We are heading in the right direction. This time we showed a little character. We said we were not going to bow down to, (in my opinion), one of the top three teams in the state.”

Hope had three players in double figures. Marissa Perry and Howington had 15 points, while Leala Longmire added 12. All three made the all-tourney team.

In Friday’s semifinal, Los Lunas built a quick lead over the Bears in the first quarter, 17-8, and the contest was never in doubt after that.

The Tigers led at halftime, 34-14, by Zeller’s 12 points and Murphy’s 11.

Zeller finished the win over Hatch with 20 points, while Murphy scored 15. Nikki Hathoot and Gaerlan had five each, Tapia, Vigil, Kaitlyn Thompson and Daisia Martinez scored two, and Jordan Holland had one.

Hatch was led by Daisy Varela’s eight points.

Teige Zeller, Murphy and Sanae Gaerlan were named to the all-tournament team. The Tigers’ 6-foot junior Katie Inman, was out of town and missed the Friday and Saturday games.


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