Dist. 6-4A Tourney: LLHS girls get back-to-back titles
Basketball coaches will tell you that their sport is a game of runs. Saturday’s Girls District 6-4A Championship game at Los Lunas was a perfect example.
In the end, defending state and district champion Los Lunas made one more run than visiting Gallup to earn a hard-fought 57-52 win Friday night and claim a second consecutive tournament championship to go with their two straight regular season league championships.
“It feels good, it feels good,” said junior Senae Gaerlan after the game. “We’re ready to move on to state.”
The post-game smiles Gaerlan and her teammates wore stood in stark contrast to the looks of concentration they wore minutes before when the Bengals tied the game at 46-46 with 4:48 left in regulation.
Egged on by their large following of fans who drove the two-plus hours for the contest, Gallup had just completed an 8-0 run to finally tie the game.
But Tiger senior Teige Zeller and her team immediately responded as Zeller made a basket on LLHS’ next possession, then goosed the Tigers to an 11-4 run that would take them to victory.
Zeller scored nine of her game-high 22 points in the fourth quarter and posted a triple-double adding 14 rebounds and 10 blocks in the win.
But it was sophomore Cera Chavez’ two free throws with 28 seconds left, as well as a determined defensive effort in the final seconds, that closed the door on the Bengals.
“I just thought about practice because we’re always shooting free throws like that, under pressure,” Chavez said of her final two shots from the charity stripe. “I just did what I’m used to doing.”
With their large, vocal contingent of fans filling the entire east stands of the LLHS gym and flexing their powerful vocal chords, Gallup raced out to an 18-9 first quarter lead before Los Lunas began a concerted effort to get Zeller the ball in the post.
Zeller and guard Elise Tapia helped the Tigers turn the tide in the second quarter, and Los Lunas took the lead for good on a 3-pointer by sophomore Jordan Holland with 2:12 left in the first half.
“We made an adjustment in the second half that allowed us to spread the floor and that was the difference,” said LLHS coach Marty Zeller.
Leading 32-31 at halftime, LLHS opened the third quarter on a 10-3 run to take a 42-34 lead. But the Bengals then set out on a 12-2 run that ended with Kaylee Tsinginie’s old-fashioned 3-point play that tied the game at 46-46 at the 4:48 mark of the fourth quarter.
“Offensively we weren’t there, we didn’t play well at all,” said Marty Zeller. “It was poor shot selection that allowed them to get their transition game (in the first half).
“Give them all the credit but you have to give the Lady Tigers credit too for coming back and showing their spirit and character,” he said.
Gallup was paced by sophomore post Ni’Asia McIntosh, who scored 22 points but was held to just three in the decisive fourth quarter. Tsinginie added 10 points for the Bengals.
Senior Dominique Polh added 10 points for LLHS, hitting a pair of 3-pointers while Tapia and junior Kaitlyn Thompson each added seven points.
Teige Zeller, Holland and Tapia all earned All-District first team honors, along with Belen’s Mariah Forde. Zeller was also named player of the year. Coach Marty Zeller, Teige’s father, was named Coach of the Year as well.
Gaerlan, Pohl and Chavez earned second-team honors, along with Valencia’s Brenda Baeza and Karina Dow, and Belen’s Kristian Sainz. LLHS’ Reanna Torres, Alyssa Vigil and Thompson earned honorable mention honors.