Prep basketball: Girls district tourney tilts tight

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The Girls District 6-4A Tournament started last Monday, Feb. 24 with first round action featuring a battle between third-seed Valencia and sixth-seed Belen, and continued on Wednesday, Feb. 26, with semifinal games featuring top-seed Los Lunas and the Jaguars, who travelled to Gallup after earning a win Monday night against the Eagles.

At Los Lunas High School Wednesday, the Patriots nearly score the upset of the season in the District 6-4A semifinals before the host Tigers rallied in the last minute to turn away their dogged and determined visitors from Gallup.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: VALENCIA’S RAEANN HERERRA (34)is surrounded by a Belen’s Monica Garley-Moore (43), Kristian Sainz (24) and Amanda Menchaca during the Jaguars’ 53-51 overtime victory on Monday, Feb. 24.

Senior Teige Zeller led Los Lunas (23-4) and led all scorers with 23 points, but sat for the final four minutes of the game after drawing her final two fouls within a minute of each other in the fourth quarter.

Miyamura (16-12), which trailed 51-36 going into the fourth quarter, installed a full court press in the fourth quarter, which threw the Tigers into disarray for a few minutes, allowing the Patriots to cut the Tigers’ lead to 53-50 with 1:21 left in regulation.

With Zeller and her teammates watching anxiously from the sideline, Los Lunas finally got some relief when junior Elise Tapia hit a pair of free throws with 1:05 left in the fourth quarter.

Tapia would go 4-for-4 from the line in the final minute while LLHS found it’s defensive footing and kept the Patriots from hitting a field goal in the final minute. Los Lunas scored all their fourth quarter points from the free throw line, going 8-of-14 from the line.

“It was very nerve wracking,” Zeller said. “But I have a lot of confidence in my team. They’re amazing. They don’t always have confidence in themselves. But when they do have that confidence, you can’t stop them.”

“We weren’t having the best game,” Tapia said. “For a minute we lost our composure. In the huddle, coach just told us to meet the ball. We know we have to stay calm because we’re going to be seeing more games like this.”

The Tigers led 37-28 at halftime, weathering an early storm of fast break basketball from the Patriots in the first quarter.

Tapia added 10 points, going a perfect 8-of-8 from on free throws for the game. Cera Chavez also scored 10 points, hitting a pair of 3-pointers. Teige Zeller also was perfect from the charity stripe, going 9-of-9.

The win, coupled with third-seeded Valencia’s 50-46 loss at second-seeded Gallup Wednesday, meant Los Lunas hosted the district championship game last Saturday.

Senior Karina Dow scored 13 points, but none were as important as her 3-pointer to tie the game 50-50 with 2:48 left in overtime, halting the momentum the Eagles used to push the game into overtime in the fourth quarter.

“They had half of their points off free throws,” said VHS coach Manuel Vigil. “The big problem was that we didn’t rebound, because that gave them a lot of second-chance points. (But) obviously we’ll take (the win).”

Valencia (21-6) went up 41-32 with 4:41 left in regulation time, but stopped driving to the basket and settled for outside shots.

Belen (12-13) took advantage, limiting the Jags to single-shot opportunities and igniting their fast break, which allowed them to rattle off an 11-2 run to tie the game 43-43 with 1:05 left in the fourth quarter. The Eagles’ Mariah Forde scored nine of her game-high 20 points in the fourth quarter, going 7-of-8 from the free throw line.

Belen’s Alexis Begay drove the lane to tie the game at 47-47 after a steal with three seconds left in regulation and triggered the overtime.

After Dow’s trey in overtime for the Jags, the Jags were able to clamp down on BHS, not allowing another field goal the rest of the way while hitting 2-of-6 free throws down the stretch for the decisive points.

“We just decided in our minds that we were going to win and that we needed to D up,” said senior Brenda Baeza. “We didn’t change strategy. When we’re on defensively, everything rolls for us.”

Amanda Menchaca added 10 points for the Eagles and Begay added seven.

Mirnahda Chavez scored eight of her team-high 16 points in the fourth quarter for Valencia. Baeza added 11 points.

Vigil said he had hoped to rest Baeza and freshman guard Lorien Aragon, who were both nursing back injuries, but was forced to play them due to the close nature of the game.

“I didn’t want to play (them) as much tonight,” he said. “They both said they were OK but they’re both saying they’re sore now.”

Belen came into the game ranked No. 11 in Class 4A, which would indicate that they could still earn an at-large bid to the state tournament, which begins next weekend.

BHS coach Dereck Atencio said he felt his team had done enough to earn a bid.

“We had some really good wins,” he said. “We beat Los Alamos, we beat Artesia. In district we beat the No. 4 team in the state (Valencia). We beat Grants twice. So I think we should be in the state tournament.”

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