District basketball races returning to status quo

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Back at the beginning of the year, it seemed like there was going to be a big shake-up at the top of District 6-4A in both boys and girls basketball.

Coming into the season, both the boys and girls squads from Los Lunas were the odd’s-on favorites to win the league title again.

But December did not play out that way.

The boys got off to a sluggish start, going 3-2 in the early going, losing to a then-unheralded Las Cruces Centennial team as well as losing to Alamogordo at home, looking less powerful than expected.

The girls also started 3-2, with an equally surprising loss at home to Albuquerque Valley and a frustrating loss to a tough Hope Christian team in the Joe Armijo Classic at Albuquerque Academy.

Girls: Tigers back to form

Following the loss to Hope, the Los Lunas girls then lost a hard-fought 42-36 game at the Alamogordo VFW Invitational to crosstown rivals Valencia. At that point, the Jaguars were in the midst of a 14-game winning streak and ranked No. 2 in Class 4A.

It looked as though the Jags had overtaken the Tigers, continuing to win right up to the opening week of District 6-4A play. Even Belen was showing signs of being a contender, racking up a 9-4 record with their only losses coming to now-No. 1 Santa Fe and solid teams from Centennial and Santa Fe St. Michael’s as well as a bad luck loss to Kirtland Central in the Broncos’ own tournament.

The winds of change seemed to be blowing.

But here we are, five games into district play and the status quo has snapped back into shape.

On the girls side, Belen is 1-4 in league play. The Eagles have not been bad, per se. Seniors Mariah Forde and Kristian Sainz have been as good as advertised in pre-season. But the guards have not stepped up on offense and the lack of scoring contributes to BHS’ defense getting worn down.

Valencia started their district slate with a tough game at Gallup, losing 53-47 to a very good Bengals team. The shocker in league play was a loss at Grants, a 39-37 setback that has the Jaguars in the middle of the pack now with the Pirates and Gallup Miyamura.

Thev Jags are now at 2-3 but their strong showing against LLHS in tuesday’s 43-42 ovetime loss bodes well, desptie the hit in the win-loss colmun.

The Tigers, meanwhile, have clicked into gear, laying down double-digit wins over their last seven opponents and getting solid guard play from seniors Elise Tapia and Alyssa Vigil, junior Sanae Gaerlan and sophomore Cera Chavez, who has shown her scoring flare plenty since the beginning of the new year.

Fellow sophomore Jordan Holland has also shown some scoring prowess as well. Because of that, Los Lunas has to be seen as a solid favorite again with the second half of the league season starting Friday.

Boys: LL stepping it up

The Los Lunas boys turnaround started in Alamogordo at the VFW invite, as they beat Albuquerque Eldorado and Carlsbad on consecutive nights before avenging their loss to Alamogordo.

Through December, Tigers’ coach Travis Julian voiced concerns about his team’s reliance on athleticism alone. And that reliance has definitely been seen in losses to Albuquerque Academy and Kirtland Central. But the Tigers were competitive against the Broncos and against 5A power Cleveland.

And since they started district, Los Lunas has been growing ever more solid, with seniors Randy Moore, Chad Murphy, Sasha Gonzales and Jalen Chavez beginning to solidify a cast headlined by Sanchez and Holland.

County rivals Belen and Valencia were beginning to show a lot of improvement in December, but both slid a bit to begin the new year. The Eagles followed a home win against Santa Fe with five losses, including their district opener against Gallup.

Led by seniors Colton Lewis, Antonio Chavez and Thomas Cordova, the Eagles have bounced back with two wins though, sitting at 2-2 with a game at Grants tonight before hosting Los Lunas Saturday to start the homestretch of district games.

Valencia has been up and down all season, though they have looked a lot better than last season. Seniors Josh Baca and Josh Doyle have both been stepping up regularly along with junior point guard Quentin Wanstall. Senior Josh Baca has also been an important cog in comeback wins against Las Cruces Mayfield and most recently against district foes Miyamura.

But when the Jags’ don’t hit their outside shots, they have problems. Valencia sits at 1-3 after Friday night’s 68-57 loss at Belen and faces Los Lunas tonight. VHS’ chances at making the state tournament don’t hinge entirely on tonight’s game at Los Lunas High School, but a win would sure help.

After wins over Gallup and Miyamura last week, Los Lunas is 4-0 and in the cat bird seat.

But remember — no one wins championships outright in February. But plenty of teams have lost them in that month.