No. 1 seed Lady Tigers roar at the Pit

........................................................................................................................................................................................

When St. Pius closed to within three points during Thursday’s semifinal Class 4A girls game at the Pit, coach Marty Zeller thought about calling a time out.

Instead, he got Alyssa Vigil, a sophomore, into the game and called for the Tigers to spread the floor and be careful with the ball.

Mike Stearns-News-Bulletin photo: Driving to the Hoop is Los Lunas guard Nikki Hathoot against St. Pius during the Lady Tigers 50-35 semifinal win at the Class 4A state tournament at the Pit. Los Lunas played for the championship against Roswell on Friday in a game that started after the News-Bulletin press time.

It worked. Vigil got two quick buckets and Los Lunas protected their No. 1 seed with a convincing 50-35 win over St. Pius.

Los Lunas got to the semifinals with a 57-44 win over Los Alamos in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.

Defending state champ Roswell won a thrilling semifinal contest over Santa Fe, 57-47, that went into double overtime for the right to face Los Lunas in the championship game, which was played on Friday night after the News-Bulletin press time.

Go to www.news-bulletin.com for a wrap-up on the game and a complete story will be in the next edition of the News-Bulletin.

St. Pius coach Phil Griego commented on how tough the Tiger defense was late in the game.

“You don’t win games that way,” Griego said of the Sartans being held to just 19-percent shooting. “When you don’t (shoot it well), you are going to pay for it.”

He noted that he was happy to see the Tigers sit outside and try 3-pointers. Los Lunas was an uncharacteristic 1-for-18 behind the arc.

“If they want to sit out there and bomb away with that beast inside, then I am all for it,” Griego said of junior post Teige Zeller. “What do they say, feed the beast. They did that and she took the game over.”

Zeller scored 17 points and pulled down 26 rebounds.

Her rebound total was a season high. Zeller was quick to credit her teammates for help inside.

“It is exhausting,” said Zeller of working for rebounding position. “Whenever your teammate gets it, it is like, yes, go. It is offense time now. Tinaya (Murphy) and Katie (Inman) got some great rebounds to help us.”

Inman and Murphy finished with seven boards each.

Vigil was a little shy about the impact she had on the game.

“I was honestly nervous. I am not the one to go score points, it was like — argh,” she said, laughing at the anxious moment on the court. “I am glad that I made it.”

Zeller said she had faith in her young teammate.

“I wasn’t really panicky,” said the junior post. “We just wanted it that badly. We had to stay composed. I just didn’t want the momentum to go that way.”

Coach Zeller had a little deeper explanation of how the Tigers survived when the lead narrowed to 36-33 in the third quarter before Vigil’s big baskets.

“That is why I knew that we had to spread the floor,” said coach Zeller. “We had to give our point guard some help.”

Coach Zeller noted that he did not have to use a valuable time out, because his team was able to slow the game down with the spread offense.

“Our spread offense is not to delay. We didn’t put that in until the district championship,” he said. “It gives us a chance to breath. It is a composure thing.”

He never lost composure on the bench, either, even though he saw his team’s 13-point lead slip away.

Senior Tinaya Murphy hit two huge free throws to make it 44-36. Los Lunas held the lead the whole game, with two ties at 15-all and 17-17.

“A win is a win,” said coach Zeller. “It doesn’t matter if it is only one point, if you go to the championship. That is what is important.”

Murphy said that the younger players made a real difference when the game was tied.

Jordan Holland came into the contest with it 17-all and hit two quick baskets to fuel a 6-0 run at the end of the second quarter to give Los Lunas a 23-17 halftime lead.

Teige Zeller was quick to add her comments in a conversation with Holland after the game.

“You looked so cool and calm, like, ‘I am not a freshman, this is my court,’” said Zeller.

“I just tried to focus on the defense so that the offense will come,” said Holland in response.

Coach Zeller knew that Holland and Vigil would have a big impact on the game.

“She doesn’t have JV games to play anymore,” he said, joking about Holland being a freshman.

“These two players are our best defenders,” said Zeller in a more serious tone. “That is why they were in there playing. They know that defense wins championships.”

Murphy finished with 11 points, Holland had seven, and Vigil scored four.

St. Pius did not have any players in double-figures, another indication of how tough the Los Lunas defense was.

Mike Stearns-News-Bulletin photo: Lady Tiger Post Teige Zeller shoots during Tuesday’s win over Los Alamos during a Class 4A quarterfinal match.

Los Lunas 57, Los Alamos 44

It was the second quarter that made the difference in the quarterfinal match-up with the Hilltoppers.

Erin Kirk, sister of University of New Mexico center Alex, gave Zeller fits at times by boxing her out on the defensive boards.

Kirk had 10 points and seven rebounds to lead Los Alamos.

After being tied 13-13 at the end of the first quarter, the Tigers got the offense going in the second to score 19 on the way to a 32-21 halftime edge.

Los Alamos was not able to get close after that.

Coach Zeller talked about the offensive fire-power that extended before halftime.

“It was a big three that Elise Tapia hit,” said Zeller. “Tinaya got a couple of threes in the second quarter. That was important.”

He also complimented the play of point guard Dominique Pohl.

“Dominique ran her best floor-game of the year,” said Zeller. “She took control of the game. It was a great job by Dominique as our point guard running the show.”

Pohl explained that it was the defense and the focus on guarding the Hilltoppers that made the difference in the game.

“We got a couple of hits off of it,” Pohl said. “Coach said to stay up on them, that we were giving them too much respect. It worked because we got some quick baskets when we tightened down on them.”

Murphy had four 3-point field goals in the game. She noted that relaxing helped her hit 50-percent behind the arc.

“I know that when I don’t think about it, that is when I shoot better,” said Murphy.


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