WEB EXCLUSIVE: LL girls blast Bengals, return to state hoops title game

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ALBUQUERQUE – Top-seeded Los Lunas will return to the Girls Class 4A State Championship game in The Pit today for a second straight year after a dominating 67-41 win over district rivals Gallup in Thursday’s semifinal game at The Pit.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: LOS LUNAS' TEIGE ZELLER, center, looks to pass while teammates Elisa Tapia and Senae Gearlan look on during LLHS's state semifinal game against Gallup Thursday.

The Tigers swept out early, dominating the Lady Bengals and taking their sizeable and vocal fan following out of the game in the process to easily win their second ticket to the title game.

“I didn’t doubt it for a second,” said senior Teige Zeller of making it to today’s championship. “It’s just time to take care of business.”
“For me it means everything,” said senior Dominique Pohl during the post-game press conference. “Seeing the girls give all they’ve got – not only for us as senior, but for everyone –  knowing we can get back in for a second year (is great).”

Los Lunas got all 12 varsity players into the game and got scoring from nine of them in the win. Senior Teige Zeller posted a third-straight double-double, scoring a game-high 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting and pulling in 14 rebounds while sophomore Jordan Holland scored 14 points, going 4-of-6 from the field and a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line.

Reserve Daisia Martinez scored all eight of her points in the final minutes of the fourth quarter while juniors Elise Tapia and Kaytlyn Thompson scored eight and seven points, respectively. Los Lunas shot a hot 52 percent, 24-of-46 from the field, for the game and made 11-of-13 free throws in the second half on their way to a 72 percent free throw performance (13-of-18). Gallup hurt itself by going just 36 percent from the free throw line, hitting just 5-of-14 freebies.

On defense, the Tigers forced 24 Bengal turnovers and held Gallup to one point and zero field goals in the third quarter.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: LOS LUNAS' DOMINIQUE POHL drives past a Gallup defender during the Tigers' state semfinal game Thursday in Albuquerque

Gallup took their only lead of the game off the opening top, a 3-pointer that gave them a 3-0 lead. Los Lunas jetted away from the Bengals with a 16-3 run as Zeller deftly passed to teammates Thompson, Tapia and Holland to get the Tigers rolling.

Up 20-8 after the first quarter, Los lunas continued to work the ball inside then outside and led 29-16 before Gallup mounted a bit of a run to cut the LLHS lead to 31-23 at halftime.

But Gallup collapsed in the third quarter as Zeller scored the Tigers first six points of the half, taking Los Lunas to a 41-24 lead at the end of the third quarter. Gallup rallied in early in the fourth, but the damage was done and soon the Tigers were shooting free throws to salt the game away. A final 11-0 run put the game out of reach for the Bengals.

“You’ve got to come out and attack those gus and we didn’t attack them as much as we should have” said Gallup coach Kamau Turner. “We got in foul trouble immediately.

Turner had questions about the officiating, including a pre-game talk he saw between officials and Marty Zeller.

“I have serious questions about what was talked about early on between the officials and Coach Zeller,” he said. “I thought that situation (pre-game) was weird.”

The match-up with second-seeded Santa Fe has been anticipated since the brackets were announced nearly two weeks ago. Teige Zeller said she was looking forward to matching up with the Demonettes’ big post player, Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage, who she shared time with in a club basketball team for a long time, she said.

“I’m excited to go against Sabrina,” said Teige. “I’ve never played against her. We thought this would be the state championship game last year, so here it is finally.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: CERA CHAVEZ, right, of Los Lunas, passes the ball around a Gallup defender during the Tigers' 67-41 state semfinal victory Thursday.

Coach Zeller said this season, has been memorable – even though it’s not over.

“It’s been magical,” he said. “Our motto for the state tournament (title) game is ‘One shot at Forever.”

“(And) here you’ve got a Los Lunas program that was last in the district two years ago and now here they are, in the state championship game two years in a row.

“It’s a storybook story, really,” he said, looking proudly at his team.