Lady Eagles have moments, but Los Lunas gets the win

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One team needed to pull a huge upset Friday to stay in the District 6-4A race. The other only needs two more wins this week to clinch first place in district for the first time since 2006-07.

The Los Lunas Lady Tigers held off a second-half rally by host Belen on Friday, outlasting their longtime rivals, 64-50. The win made the Tigers 19-3 overall and 6-0 in District 6-4A, while the Lady Eagles fell to 7-13, 1-5.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Belen’s Destinee Vigil, left. races past Dominique Pohl of Los Lunas in Friday’s game. LLHS won, 64-50, and both teams are set to host 7 p.m. District 6-4A games on Thursday.

On Thursday, each team will host 6-4A opponents again. The 7 p.m. home games have Los Lunas facing Grants, while Belen hosts Gallup.

The Tigers roared out to a 17-point lead early in Friday’s game before the Eagles eventually cut it to nine points by the third quarter. Los Lunas took command late and led by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter, en route to beating the Eagles for the fourth straight time.

“We did an excellent job of re-grouping,” said LLHS coach Marty Zeller, whose team rallied when two key players were on the bench in the second half. “We’re learning to overcome things better.”

The Tigers’ leading scorer and coach’s daughter, the 6-foot, 3-inch Teige Zeller, got in foul trouble in the first half after LLHS had hit four 3-pointers to build a 25-4 first-quarter lead. She was benched when she picked up her fourth foul at the 6:21 mark of the third quarter, and Belen had its best run after that.

“When you get up by that much (Los Lunas still led 27-10 after one quarter, referees tend to feel sorry for the other team,” said coach Zeller. “I don’t fault them for that— it’s human nature. We have to do a much better job on defense; if we’re giving up layups, we’re not playing well.”

Belen started out trying to out-run Los Lunas, which led to the Tigers getting easy 3-point looks on offense and the Eagles turning the ball over and taking running one-handed shots on offense. BHS settled in and started getting more points out of a slower half-court offense, and trailed 38-23 at halftime.

“We must not exceed the speed limit of good basketball,” said Belen’s first-year coach, Dereck Atencio. “We keep getting down early against really good teams. We put together stretches of good basketball, but we need to be much tougher, mentally.”

Belen pulled to within 42-33 with 3:09 left in the third quarter on a coast-to-coast layup by sophomore guard Mariah Forde. However, the Tigers, despite not having either Teige Zeller or senior Tinaya Murphy in the game, managed to get some shots to fall, and slowly pulled away in the third and fourth quarters.

While the officials called 20 fouls on Belen to just nine against the Tigers, it seemed the Eagles were allowed much contact with Zeller, while not affording the junior much contact when she was on defense. She seemed frustrated, earning a technical foul, and finished with only nine points.

Nikki Hathoot led Los Lunas with 15 points, while Murphy had 10. Both players had two of the Tigers’ eight 3-pointers; Belen didn’t make any treys in the game.

Kristian Sainz not only did well defensively against Teige Zeller, but also led the Eagles with 13 points before fouling out. Forde added 12, and Destinee Vigil had 11 off the bench.

The Tigers, who also beat Belen 55-25 on Jan. 22 at LLHS, made 16-of-25 free throws Friday. Belen was 4-for-7.

If Los Lunas beats Grants on Thursday and at Gallup on Saturday, coupled with at least one loss by Valencia this week, Los Lunas would clinch first place in district for the first time since the 2006-07 season. The Tigers have not won a district tournament title since their state-finalist season of 1979-80.

Both teams have tough challenges

Thursday. Los Lunas barely grabbed a 43-40 win on its trip to Grants earlier this season; Belen lost 63-53 at Gallup.

“We have to play extremely good defense,” said Atencio. “And keep them off the boards.”


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