Repeat bid by LL girls sunk by SF surge

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“A Tale of Two Cities” author Charles Dickens could have easily written the script to Los Lunas’ dramatic experience in the Class 4A Girls Basketball Tournament championship game Friday night at The Pit.

The Tigers’ “tale of two halves” finished with a cruel twist at the end, as second-seeded Santa Fe virtually shut down top-seeded Los Lunas’ offense in the second half, and won 34-29 to claim the state title.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: KAITLYN THOMPSON (11) and Teige Zeller (33) of the Los Lunas girls basketball team defend a Santa Fe shooter in the Girls Class 4A State Championship game at The Pit Friday night.

Not only did SFHS deny LLHS a second consecutive title, it also snapped the Tigers’ 20-game winning streak.

“Usually even if there’s a turnover it’s like ‘Alright, next one, you got it,” said LLHS post Teige Zeller “But the game just seemed to go really, really fast. It seemed like there was no recovery ability (for us).”

Los Lunas posted a pair of dominating state wins last week beating district rivals Miyamura 60-43 in the quarterfinals Tuesday, and Gallup 67-41 in Thursday’s semifinals game. Recaps of both games are available as Web Exclusives at www.news-bulletin.com.

On Friday night, a trapping defense combined with an offensive and defensive game plan that emphasized clogging the lane were key to the Demonettes comeback in the second half. Santa Fe finished the season 30-2 while Los Lunas finished 27-5.

“Our lack of floor leadership really, really showed,” said LLHS coach Marty Zeller, who said his decision to start sophomore Jordan Holland in the second half over starting point guard Dominique Pohl was a big factor in the loss.

“To throw (Jordan) in in the second half, even though she’s been in that position… it just stymied us. That start in the third quarter just killed us. Ultimately it was my responsibility.”

The Tigers were paced by junior Elise Tapia, who scored a team-high 11 points. Senior post Teige Zeller finished with nine rebounds and eight points, her lowest output of the season and her lowest output as a Tiger since transferring from Grants High School after the 2011-12 season.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: THE LOS LUNAS GIRLS’ basketball team and coach Marty Zeller look on during the post-game trophy presentation ceremony following the Tigers’ 34-29 loss to Santa Fe in the Class 4A State Tournament championship game Friday night.

Zeller’s opposite number, Santa Fe’s junior post Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage scored just eight points. But the Demonettes’ Jackie Martinez made up for that, scoring eight of her game-high 15 points in the decisive fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t Los Lunas defense,” Marty Zeller said. “(The second half) was not Los Lunas offense or Los Lunas defense and that’s my fault.”

Los Lunas started fast and strong, taking a 7-2 lead early with a patient offensive game plan and solid defense that seemed to fluster the Demonettes, who committed 11 turnovers in the first two quarters.

Leading 9-4 going into the second quarter, the Tigers withstood an early run by Santa Fe, then didn’t allow another field goal the rest of the half to take an 18-9 lead into halftime.

The tables turned in the third quarter as Santa Fe’s defensive pressure took Los Lunas out of their offensive rhythm. The Tiger who shot 8-of-16 for 50 percent in the first half, made only one field goal in the third quarter, as Zeller and guards Dominique Pohl and Cera Chavez and wing Jordan Holland were often swarmed.

Despite the poor quarter, the Tigers led 22-17 going into the fourth quarter. But a 9-2 Demonettes run minutes later gave them the lead for good.

Los Lunas shot a paltry 4-of-22, 18 percent, in the second half and finished just 2-of-8, 20 percent, from the free throw line. The Tigers were also out-rebounded 44-30. The two teams combined for 44 turnovers in the game.

“The best defense overcame the best offense,” said Santa Fe coach Elmer Chavez, comparing the game to the recent Seattle-Denver Super Bowl.

Los Lunas loses just two seniors, guard Dominique Pohl and Teige Zeller, who signed to play with the University of Nevada this past fall. The team will be hard pressed to replace them, said Marty Zeller.

“Obviously it’s going to be different without the big girl in the middle,” said Zeller.

But the foundation built by the last two season’s players, taking Los Lunas from last place in district to two-time state finalists with a state championship to show, is strong, said Pohl.

“It means a lot,” she said. “My freshman and sophomore year, we couldn’t get anything going, but it all just took off. Seeing the support from the community is amazing.”