Valencia picks off Gallup to remain in district race

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

Coming off an emotional overtime loss to crosstown rivals Los Lunas, the Valencia girls basketball team may have been ripe for the picking.

But visiting Gallup was picked by the Jaguars instead, losing 49-43 as Valencia (18-4, 3-3 District 6-4A) moved to within one game of the second-place Bengals with just four games left in the regular season.

Kenn Rodriguez- News-Bulletin photo: VALENCIA’S Miranda Chavez, left, and Brenda Baeza, center, battle for a loose ball with Gallup’s Cheyenne Living-ston during the Jaguars’ 49-43 win overt he Bengals Friday at Valencia High School.

But the win did not come easily, as Gallup (15-6, 4-2) rallied with 18 points in the fourth quarter, puling to within six points on a 3-pointer with 1:14 left in regulation, capping a 14-4 run that silenced the Jags vocal crowd and put the VHS bench on edge.

In stepped the Valencia defense, which had been key in building what was a 39-25 lead going into the fourth quarter. The Jags “D” held Gallup without another point the rest of the way, while VHS got two-of-four free throws to fall to ice the win.

“We needed the win,” said VHS coach Manuel Vigil. “We keep putting ourselves in must-win situations. But as long as we get the win, it’s good. That’s what we wanted. Obviously, that’s not how we wanted it to go at the end, but we got the win.”

Gallup took a 6-2 lead early, but Valencia stormed back with a 9-2 run to take an 11-7 lead into the second quarter. The Jags defense stepped up, limiting the Bengals scoring opportunities. VHS held Gallup scoreless for nearly four minutes and finished the half on an 11-3 run to take a 23-12 lead into halftime.

“Our defense was good in the first half,” Vigil said. “We did a good job executing with our posts.”

Valencia went on a 13-5 run in the third quarter to take a commanding 36-17 lead with 2:15 left in the third quarter. But Gallup began to drive the basket, drawing fouls that fueled an 8-3 run that trimmed the Jags’ lead to 39-25 going into the fourth quarter.

Gallup continued to drive in the final stanza, taking advantage of Valencia players foul trouble as the Jags’ defense lost some intensity.

But Valencia’s Miranda Chavez and Karina Dow both hit a pair of free throws, slowing the Bengals’ momentum.

“The problem in the second half, in the fourth quarter, was lack of defense on their dribble penetration,” Vigil said. “We struggled. They changed their mentality into going to the basket.”

Senior Miranda Chavez agreed.

“We were tired towards the end,” Chavez said. “The main thing was to stay on them. We way we look at it, we’re like a swarm of bees. So even if they’re taking shots, we know our sisters are there for us.”

VHS’ Savannah Stump scored nine of her game-high 11 points in the second half. Dow added 10 points and Raeanne Herrera added seven points.

Valencia finished the game hitting just 14-of-28 free throws.

With four games left in the regular season, Valencia now travels to play Miyamura tonight before returning home Saturday to entertain Grants.

District tournament play begins on Monday, Feb. 24, with the No. 3 and No. 4 seeds hosting the No. 6 and No. 5 seeds, respectively.

The district championship game is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 28, and is hosted by the highest remaining seed.

The Belen girls basketball team earned a split last week, beating Grants 69-68 with a buzzer-beater on Tuesday night, then falling at Los Lunas 69-44 on Friday night.

Against the Pirates, the Eagles trailed 32-30 going into the fourth quarter after being tied 23-23 at halftime. Junior Mariah Forde led the way with 16 points and 15 rebounds in the win.

Against Los Lunas, the Eagles fell behind 18-7 in the first quarter as the Tigers took the early lead then padded a 38-24 halftime lead with a 20-11 fourth quarter to win going away.

Belen was paced by senior Kristian Sainz, who scored 12 points, and junior Alexis Begay, who added 10. Forde finished with nine points and seven rebounds.

The Eagles are now 11-9, 1-5 in district and play at Gallup tonight before hosting Miyamura Saturday.

The Tigers followed the win over Belen with a domineering 71-46 win over Santa Fe St. Michael’s. Senior Teige Zeller notched a double-double with 33 points and 33 rebounds.

Los Lunas moved to 17-4 on the season, 6-0 in district. The Tigers beat Kirtland Central 76-47 Tuesday night and next plays Grants tonight before hosting Gallup Saturday night.