WEB EXCLUSIVE: Valencia hoops girls hop past St. Pius to state semis

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ALBUQUERQUE – Near the end of their quarterfinal match-up with third-seeded St. Pius X Tuesday morning, the Valencia girls basketball faced a situation that they’d encountered in nearly every loss this season.

The Jaguars had held a healthy lead all through the second and third quarter before the Lady Sartans rallied to tie the game 43-43 midway through the fourth quarter.

But this time Valencia beat them back, not once but twice, to score a minor upset with a 61-53 win in Class 4A State Tournament at The Pit Tuesday morning.

“I felt comfortable,” said VHS coach Manuel Vigil. “We just had to make good decisions down the stretch.

“We have probably the toughest district in the state and we had a lot of dogfights,” he said. “That prepared us for those final two minutes.

Valencia (23-7) now can avenge themselves against the team that knocked them out of last season’s state tournament, second-seeded Santa Fe. The Demonettes beat the Jags in the 45-38 quarterfinals last season.

On Tuesday, Valencia responded to the Sartans late run to tie the game with a 7-0 run of their own, ignited by a 3-pointer by freshman Geneya Sanchez to take a 50-43 lead with 2:22 left in regulation.
St. Pius (22-6) would rally again with a 5-0 run to cut the Jaguars’ advantage to 50-48 with 1:40 left in the game.

But Valencia’s defense, which had been solid for much of the game, clamped down on the Sartans, allowing just one field goal in the final 1:40 of the game whiel the Jags converted 9-of-10 free throws down the stretch to finish with an 11-5 run that secured the win for Valencia.

“We just thought we might as well go all out, attack and get to the free throw line,” said senior Karina Dow.

Dow led the Jags with 14 points. Fellow senior Brenda Baeza added 10 points and freshman guard Lorien Aragon scored all eight of her points in the fourth quarter, going 8-of-8 from the free throw line.

The two teams battled closely throughout the game, which was notable for its defensive bent. St. Pius led 15-14 after the first quarter. But Valencia out-scored St. Pius 13-3 in the second quarter, allowing just one field goal to take a 26-18 halftime lead.

The Sartans opened the second half with a defensive shift that brought pressure to the Jaguars, igniting a 7-0 St. Pius run to cut the lead to 26-25 before Baeza made an opportune put-back to give the Jags some breathing room at 28-25.

Valencia led 37-33 after the third quarter but St. Pius tied the game with 37-37 with a 3-pointer at the 6:31 mark then briefly took a 41-39 lead with 5:14 left in the game.
Baeza tied the game 41-41 with a pair of free throws at the 4:40 mark and Aragon tied the game for the final time with a pair of free throws at the 4:08 mark.

“I honestly felt like we didn’t play with any energy today,” said St. Pius coach Phil Griego. “Our game this whole year has been to come out and pressure them. (But) I really felt like we didn’t come out and attack.”