Lady Tigers hold off Valencia, 41-31

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In what almost seemed to be a contest to see which team’s offense could struggle more, the Los Lunas High basketball team managed to pull out a road win over Valencia High on Tuesday.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Katie Inman of Los Lunas, left, tries to grab the ball away from Valencia’s Savannah Stump in Tuesday’s game. The Lady Tigers held off the Lady Jaguars, 41-31, to improve to 5-0 in District 6-4A, and both teams are in action again on Thursday, Feb. 14.

The Lady Tigers’ 41-31 win made them 17-3 overall and 5-0 in 6-4A. Valencia fell to 15-6 and 3-2.

Los Lunas only scored eight combined points in the late first quarter and in the fourth period, and only went to the foul line seven times. But the Tigers got enough solid play at the end to win the rivalry game. Valencia struggled in shooting and in turnovers and went 8-for-20 from the foul line in the loss.

The two teams were set to play Friday after News-Bulletin press time, with Los Lunas at Belen and Valencia at Gallup. They play 7 p.m. games on Thursday, Feb. 14, with the Tigers hosting Grants and the Jaguars hosting Miyamura.

The Tigers posted a 12-0 lead in the first quarter of Tuesday’s game, even before their 6-foot, 3-inch star, Teige Zeller, scored any points. Slick ball movement and perimeter shooting led to the huge early lead, but the persistent Jaguars forced the Tigers to eventually go inside.

“We had perfect spacing — it was beautiful,” said LLHS coach Marty Zeller. “But, we decided to start dribbling the ball, and having things like lefties dribbling right-handed, and there’s only one way to correct it — to put kids on the bench.”

Valencia went on an 8-2 run to end the first quarter. Its three missed free throws at the end of the period not only slowed the Jags’ momentum, but were also a sign of struggles to come.

The Jags eventually pulled to within 20-16 late in the half, when Zeller and foul-troubled starting point guard Nikki Hathoot were on the bench. Valencia enjoyed favorable calls most of the night, including only 11 fouls called to Los Lunas’ 20, but couldn’t capitalize enough.

“Our execution was very poor,” said VHS coach Shannon Vigil. “I don’t know if we were nervous, or scared, or the whole student section (Valencia’s fan numbers and noise were much better than LLHS) thing, or a combination.”

The Tigers, who also beat the Jags in the championship of the Village of Los Lunas Holiday Classic in September, led 22-17 at halftime Tuesday. Valencia pulled to within 27-24 late in the third quarter before a 9-0 Los Lunas run to end the period.

Teige Zeller had a strong third quarter, muscling in for a few of her game-high 16 points, and helping put her Tigers up 36-24 by the start of the fourth quarter.

Valencia hung around, but its inability to score negated its fine defensive work in both the post and on the perimeter. The Jags were within 37-29 with 3:34 to go, but LLHS’ stalls and passing improved, and Los Lunas hung on.

Tinaya Murphy had another stellar game for the Tigers. Her two free throws with 29.4 seconds left were the last of her 10 points, and she had two of her team’s four 3-pointers.

“We need to be even more of a 3-point threat,” said Zeller. “But what is sweet is that we are up three games on everyone, and still have Grants, Miyamura and Valencia at our place.”

Hathoot, with eight points, and Katie Inman, with seven, were the only other Tigers to score. Valencia’s Mariah Ibuado led the team with eight points.

The Jags only made 10 shots from the field. Two prolific scorers, Karina Dow and Brenda Baeza, had two points and one point, respectively.

“It makes it tough,” said Vigil, referring to the two starters’ struggles. “And we didn’t convert crucial turnovers into points, either.”

Vigil seems to be at wit’s end with the free-throw ineptitude — a problem through the years at VHS.

“They’re going to run for this” said Vigil in describing consequences for Tuesday’s performance. “We’re even done focusing on free throws in practice. Whatever they have to do — put a penny in a shoe, if you have to.”


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