DRIVE TIME

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The Los Lunas boys basketball team moved closer to a No. 1 seed in the upcoming District 6-4A tournament this past weekend with a pair of road wins over county rivals Valencia and Belen.

The Tigers remained undefeated in district play by beating the Jaguars 74-59 in Tomé Thursday, then held off the Eagles Saturday to claim a 71-64 win at Belen High School.

Kenn Rodriguez -News-Bulletin photo: VALENCIA DEFENDERS Quentin Wanstall (25) and Garrett Gibson, right, try to defend Los Lunas’ Jacob Holland, center, during a fast break during the Jaguars-Tigers game Saturday at Valencia High School. Holland and the Tigers prevailed 74-59 to go to 6-0 in District 6-4A.

Belen was winless for the weekend, falling 76-63 to Grants at the Pirates’ gym Thursday. Valencia followed up their home loss to the Tigers with a 82-54 road loss to Gallup Saturday night.

Belen is currently in a four-way tie for third place with Grants, Miyamura and Valencia with three games left in the regular season.

The district tournament begins Tuesday, Feb. 25, with the district championship game set for Saturday, March 1. Seeds and sites will be determined after the final regular season game on Saturday, Feb. 22.

Belen trailed the entire game against Los Lunas Saturday at Belen High School, but cut the Tigers lead to five points at 54-49 when Brandon Ammons hit a three-pointer with 4:30 left in regulation, igniting the partisan Eagle crowd.

Ninety seconds later, Belen was looking at an 11-point deficit, as Los Lunas’ Jacob Holland capped a six-point surge fueled by a technical foul and then an intentional foul, giving the Tigers four possessions and a return of momentum.

“It was a huge,” said LLHS coach Travis Julian of the decisive sequence. “They were making a run and it stopped their momentum. It was a big sequence of events.”

Kenn Rodriguez -News-Bulletin photo: CHRIS SANCHEZ, of Los Lunas, right, is fouled as he drives against Belen’s Colton Lews, left, during the Tigers-Eagles game at Belen last Thursday

The sequence started with a technical on an Eagle player following a foul called when Los Lunas’ Chris Sanchez drove the basket. Holland went one-for-two on the free throws from the technical, followed by Sanchez going one-of-two on the free throws for the foul.

After a Belen turnover, Sanchez again drove the basket and was fouled hard, resulting in two more free throws, which the senior made.

Using its 3-point prowess, Belen stayed close, but was unable to cut the deficit to more than seven points.

“The slow start really hurt us,” BHS coach Patrick Mondragon said. “You can’t spot them the amount of points, and we’ve got to be smarter. We get a technical and an intentional (foul) when we were making a run and that was it.”

Sanchez led all scorers with 27 points, while Holland added 25 points for the Tigers in the win. Largely held in check for most of the game, the Eagles’ Colton Lewis scored 10 of his team-leading 21 points in the fourth quarter, hitting three 3-pointers. Antonio Chavez added 14 points for BHS, also hitting three 3-pointers — two in the third quarter and one in the fourth quarter.

Los Lunas senior Sasha Gallegos, who shared the defensive assignment on Lewis with fellow senior Jalen Chavez, said he defensive effort was a key in the game.

“We knew he could do some damage and we just wanted to keep a man in his face,” Gonzales said. “We’ve been working more on our defense and I think that’s what helped us tonight.”

Los Lunas sprinted out to a 14-4 lead to begin the game but Belen cut the lead to 15-9 going into the second quarter.

The Tigers and Eagles largely traded shots through the second quarter. Lewis made two of four free throws in the final five seconds of the half and Los Lunas led 31-23 at halftime.

Los Lunas started the third quarter with am 11-4 run to take their biggest lead at 42-27. Belen finished the third quarter on a 7-3 run that cut the Tiger lead to 48-39 going into the final stanza.

Belen (8-13, 2-5 District 6-4A) fell to Gallup 67-60 Tuesday night and next travels to play Gallup Miyamura Friday.

Los Lunas (14-5, 7-0) beat Grants 75-60 Tuesday night and travels to play Gallup High, also on Friday night.

Los Lunas offensive prowess proved to be too much for Valencia on Thursday as the Tigers got 31 points from Chris Sanchez and another 24 points from Jacob Holland as LLHS won going away.

“It was probably hard to see what our game plan was because we didn’t defend very well,” said Julian. “We knew they have shooters and wanted to run them off the (3-point) arc and we did an OK job of that. (Josh Baca) hurt us but we got the win.”

After trading baskets early on, Los Lunas finished the first quarter with an 8-2 run fueled by fast-break opportunities. Trailing 21-12 going into the second quarter, Valencia hung on and eventually cut the lead to 35-29 on a pair of 3-pointers by Josh Doyle.

But Los Lunas again finished with a flourish, going on a 7-2 run to finish the half and take a 42-31 lead into halftime.

VHS again cut the lead to six points at 42-36, but the Tigers responded with an 13-2 run over the last four minutes of the third quarter that largely settled the issue, giving LLHS a commanding 55-39 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Josh Baca paced Valencia with 15 points in the loss.

Valencia (8-12, 2-5) beat Miyamura 38-25 Tuesday and next play at Grants Friday night.