Tigers clinch first district title in team history

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According to records, the first-place District 6-4A crown clinched by the Los Lunas boys basketball team Friday was its first in team history.

Jason W. Brooks-News-Bulletin photo: Dakota Eward, right, of Los Lunas pursues Curtis Norvell of Gallup in Friday’s game. The Tigers prevailed, 59-56, to earn their first district title in team history, and will finish the regular season at Miyamura on Thursday and at Valencia on Saturday. Both games are set for 7 p.m.

However, the Tigers want to do much more this season. They hope to build off Friday’s intense, 59-56, district-clinching win over Gallup by going deep into the Class 4A state playoffs next month.

The win over the Bengals made the Tigers 18-5 overall and 8-0 in District 6-4A, with two games left in the regular season. Los Lunas is set to play 7 p.m. games at Miyamura on Thursday and at Valencia High on Saturday.

The Tigers are guaranteed a spot in the state tournament, by clinching first place in district, and will be the No. 1 seed in the District 6-4A tourney, set for the week of Feb. 26-March 2. The state tournament seeds will be determined by a committee and released on Sunday, March 3.

“Los Lunas High has made it so far in football, wrestling and baseball, this is no surprise,” said Gallup coach Dominic Romero, referring to the Tiger boys clinching their first district title. “We had a few calls that could have gone our way tonight, but we were playing a team that I feel should be a top-four seed at state. I feel we should get a top-eight seed. And once the district tournament is over, we’ll be rooting for other District 6 teams — including the Tigers.”

Friday’s game seemed like a contest the Tigers could have blown open several times, but the defending Class 4A state-finalist Bengals were not content to let the hosts run away with the title. Gallup (14-9, 5-3), which the Tigers defeated at GHS on Jan. 29, allowed Los Lunas to get ahead by nine points in the first half of Friday’s game, and by no more than seven in the second half.

LLHS went up 58-51 on a pair of free throws by senior Ben Romero with 41.7 seconds left before Gallup put together a few plays to make the final score closer.

Romero finished with a game-high 24 points.

The Bengals scored on a putback, and the Tigers extended their lead to 59-53 when Quentin Mullins made one of two free throws with 9.3 seconds to play. Dominic Martinez made a 3-pointer for Gallup with one second remaining, and after a Bengal timeout Los Lunas was able to inbound the ball and run out the clock before Gallup could foul.

Gallup held small leads in the game. There eight lead changes and seven ties in the first three quarters, but the Tigers led throughout the final 10 minutes of the game.

Chris Sanchez had 15 points and Jacob Holland added 10 for the Tigers, who won despite making zero 3-pointers and only making 17-of-26 free throws. Los Lunas led 9-8 after one quarter, and improved dribble-driving helped the Tigers make an 8-0 run for a 22-13 lead late in the second quarter.

Gallup surged to pull to within 22-19 by halftime, and LLHS led 39-37 at the start of the fourth period.

The Bengals were led by Darren Spencer, who had 14 points. Martinez added 13.

The physical contest featured some scraps for loose balls and rebounds and some shoving and stare-downs, but the teams basically restored order without a major confrontation.

Some officials’ calls in the game displeased both coaches, but LLHS senior Dakota Eward said that’s the kind of adversity his team must overcome.

“No matter what the calls are, we’ve got to stick together,” said Eward. “We started at the bottom when we got here (as freshmen), and now we just have to keep working — heading toward that blue trophy.”


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