The Will to Win

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The Valencia girls basketball team continued their historic roll this week, winning a pair of games at home early in the week while the Belen girls traveled to the Four Corners and came away from the weekend trip with a third-place trophy.

Valencia, which improved to 15-1 on the season — the best start in school history — held steady at No. 3 in the MaxPreps Class 4A rankings.

Belen (8-3) moved up to No. 9 in the poll while Los Lunas (6-3), which was idle again this past week, remained at No. 4.

BHS third in Bronco Invite

The Eagles bounced back from a lackluster first half in the semifinals game against host Kirtland Central Friday with a strong showing against district foes Grants in the third place game, defeating the Lady Pirates 49-47 at the Lady Bronco Invite.

Junior Mariah Forde scored 17 points and had 11 rebounds in the win. Senior Kristian Sainz added 12 points and 13 rebounds.

“The third quarter was the turning point,” BHS coach Dereck Atencio said. “We got a little bit of a lead but they fought back.”

Down two points in the final seconds, Grants got a player to the free throw line with .6 seconds left in the game. But Atencio called a time out before the shots were taken, icing the player, who missed both free throws.

“The kids showed great physical and mental toughness,” he said. “To play three games in three days and to play Grants, who like everyone in district is ranked in the top 10, was great. It was a close game all the way. We just did the things we had to do down the stretch to be successful in the game.”

The Eagles started the tournament strong with a 59-31 win over Ignacio (Colo.), led by Forde and Sainz, who scored 15 and 14 points, respectively.

But Belen came out cold against Kirtland Central in Friday’s semifinal, falling behind 23-14 in the first half but ultimately falling 49-42.

Forde and Sainz again led the Eagles with 18 and 12 points, respectively.

“We didn’t play with our normal fire in the first half but it ended up being close,” said Atencio.

Belen played at No. 2 Santa Fe Wednesday after the News-Bulletin deadline and hosts their final pre-district game against Bernalillo tonight before starting district play Tuesday at home against Los Lunas.

“They have a Zeller on the floor and a Zeller on the sidelines and they’ve played some tough competition,” Atencio said, referencing the Tigers’ player-coach tandem of Teige and Marty Zeller. “Belen-Los Lunas is like Duke-North Carolina or Lakers-Celtics. It’s always a tough one.”

Valencia 15-1 after wins

The Jaguars continued on their record making pre-district streak by beating Bernalillo 57-16 on the road last Tuesday, Jan. 7, before returning home to defeat Santa Fe Indian School 58-31 Monday.

Valencia also faced Atrisco Heritage Academy at home Tuesday night, defeating the Jaguars 58-31.

Against Santa Fe Indian School Monday, VHS jumped out to a 16-7 first quarter lead and held the Lady Braves to single digit scoring in three of four quarters — and just five points in the final stanza.

Miranda Chavez paced the Jaguars with 14 points while Brenda Baeza and Karina Dow each scored 13 points in the win.

Valencia plays at West Mesa tonight before beginning district play at Gallup Tuesday night. The Lady Bengals are currently 7-3 on the season and ranked No. 6 in Class 4A.

Tigers end break at Hope

The Tigers haven’t played since their 42-36 loss to Valencia in the Alamogordo VFW Invitational championship game on Dec. 28.

LLHS returns to action today against West Las Vegas in the Hope Christian Invitational in Albuquerque. The Lady Dons are currently ranked No. 7 in Class 3A.

Should Los Lunas win, they could face undefeated Shiprock (16-0) in the semifinals Friday afternoon. The winner of the semifinal is likely to face host Hope (10-2) in the finals.