Lady Tigers squeak by Grants; Gallup next

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If this is how intense all District 6-4A girls basketball games are going to be the rest of this season, fasten your seat belts.

Saturday’s 43-40 Los Lunas High win at Grants had everything many of last year’s games featured — very physical play, questionable officiating, extended leads, and battles involving LLHS center Teige Zeller.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Los Lunas’ Teige Zeller tries to pass around Grants defenders in Friday’s game. The Tigers edged Grants, 43-40, and will play two District 6-4A games this week at 7 p.m., hosting Gallup on Thursday and playing at Miyamura on Saturday.

The Tigers’ narrow escape from Grants with a win made them 14-3 overall and 2-0 in 6-4A. They were set to host Piedra Vista for a non-district game Tuesday after News-Bulletin press time, and are scheduled to play two District 6-4A games this week at 7 p.m., hosting Gallup on Thursday and playing at Miyamura on Saturday.

Elise Tapia made the second of two free throws Friday at Grants with 6.6 seconds to seal the Tigers’ win. Grants was unable to get a quality shot as time expired.

The game was a homecoming of sorts for Zeller and her father Marty, who coached the Grants boys for six years before taking the Lady Tigers’ job last spring. There were hugs between old friends before and after the game, but while the clock was running, the host Lady Pirates used a physical gameplan to try and slow down the 6-foot, 2-inch Zeller and the Tigers.

“They did what they had to do to crawl back in it,” said coach Zeller. “But our bigs ended up dribbling too much. It wears you out more to dribble than to pass, and our bigs need to conserve their energy for the paint.”

Los Lunas surged at least once in each quarter, including when taking a 35-23 lead with about six minutes left in the game. But Grants’ defensive pressure and spacing, coupled with a Pirate offense that caught fire late and some very questionable calls and non-calls, allowed the hosts to stay in the game.

The Pirates (9-9, 0-2) tried to double-team Teige Zeller virtually every time the junior touched the ball, even in the backcourt. Rather than smack and poke as many teams have done, the Pirates merely bodied up to the junior and tried to block her path with arms and legs.

The ploy was somewhat successful, as Grants forced Zeller to dribble into the frontcourt at times, or miss shots down low. But she still had a team-high 11 points, and was effective on defense, blocking or altering many shots, and on the boards.

Grants pulled to within 40-36 by about the two-minute mark in the game before Sanae Gaerlan’s two free throws put the Tigers up 42-36. A pair of stops and a missed Los Lunas free throw, along with a pair of Pirate layups, made it 42-40 with 12.8 seconds left, but Grants coach Bill McLaughlin had used up all his timeouts by then.

The Pirates needed to foul Tapia to stop the clock, and the sophomore hit the free throw that forced Grants to need a 3-point shot to tie the game.

The Tigers were 14-of-26 from the foul line; Grants was only 8-for-24.

Nikki Hathoot added eight points for the Tigers, who led 23-16 at the half. Tinaya Murphy, who played valiantly when not on the bench in foul trouble, had four points, as did Tapia.

The Tigers were still without speedy guard Cera Chavez due to injury.

Grants freshman guard Haley Hall led her team with 13 points. Sydney Mares and Brianna Frank each had 10.

Even though coach Zeller didn’t like his bigger players dribbling so much, it got the ball upcourt, and it’s an element of basketball his daughter seems to enjoy.

“I like dribbling,” said Teige Zeller. “Mine definitely needs work, but it makes the game more fun.”


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