Tiger boys hang on to beat Eagles

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Both coaches brought up the word "adversity" when describing what their teams had to face in Thursday's District 6-4A boys basketball opener.

The host Belen Eagles faced adversity in the first half of the game, and the Los Lunas Tigers faced it late in the third quarter. In both cases, it was a run by the other team, and the Tigers were the ones to emerge with a 59-49 victory.

The teams get right back to work with 7 p.m. games on Saturday night, with Belen hosting Gallup, and Los Lunas at home against Grants. On Tuesday, Los Lunas makes its much-anticipated trip to Gallup, and Belen travels to Miyamura High in Gallup.

"They made a run at the end, when they needed to, and we didn't," said Belen coach Patrick Mondragon after Thursday's game. "But we were without our sixth man (injured guard Thomas Cordova), and we didn't take care of the ball through the whole game. But I'm proud of what we did in the second half; we could have easily let them beat us by 20."

The Tigers (11-5 overall, 1-0 in 6-4A) were on fire at times in the first half, scoring the game's first seven points and leading 24-15 at the half. It seemed like the team that threw the ball away the least would get the upper hand, as each team had its spurts of steals that turned into fast-break points.

"We've overcome adversity by winning on the road," said LLHS coach Travis Julian. "We could have folded when they made their run. We did a better job in the first half, but when we really needed it at the end, we got the defensive stops we had to have."

Belen went on a 20-5 run to start the third quarter, and led briefly toward the end of the period, helping bring its noisy student section and crowd more into the game. But the Tigers made a 9-0 run of their own in the third and fourth quarters, and after Los Lunas went up 50-40, Belen made its last valiant surge.

The Eagles were within 52-49, with 1:23 left in the game, but a missed one-and-one free throw and some well-timed passes and layups by the Tigers allowed the visitors to hang on for the win.

Los Lunas was led by 16 points from Chris Sanchez and 15 from Jacob Holland. Ben Romero added 13, including an NBA-range 3-pointer at the buzzer to stretch out the final margin, and Quentin Mullins had 11.

"Chris wasn't getting a lot of touches early on, but he did a good job of keeping playing," said Julian, whose team had its own large, supportive student section. "Quentin did an outstanding job on Zach (Martin); and we played great team defense against a team that is hard to guard."

Martin was a factor on defense and on the boards, but Los Lunas denied the Belen senior the ball very well, and he only had six points. Colton Lewis led the Eagles with 15 points, including three of the team's six 3-pointers, and Ray Montoya added 11.

"I think this year's Los Lunas team is more talented than last year's," said Mondragon. "We still have a chance to split with them. We'll see them again (Saturday, Feb. 9)."


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