Shot at championship just short for VHS girls

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You don’t have to tell the Valencia girls basketball team that basketball can be a game of inches. Looking into their teary, red-rimmed eyes at a post-game press conference Thursday, you could tell they’d just experienced it first hand.

Thursday in The Pit, the Jaguars fell inches short of upsetting second-seeded Santa Fe, which escaped with a 38-37 win to eliminate Valencia from the Class 4A State Tournament.

Kenn Rodriguez- News-Bulletin photo: VALENCIA DEFENDERS, Brenda Baeza (23), Raeanne Herrera (25) and Lorien Aragon (4) set up their defense against Santa Fe in their Girls Class 4A State Tournament semifinal game at The Pit in Albuquerque Thursday morning.

The Jags trailed 27-17 early in the third quarter, but battled back to take a 37-36 lead with 2:41 left in the game off the strength of a pair of 3-point baskets by senior Karina Dow.

After a turnover by Santa Fe, Valencia had the ball with 28 seconds left. After a timeout, the Jags ran a play that put Dow in the lane with a great look at the basket. But the senior’s running jump shot fell short, hitting the front of the rim.

Santa Fe’s Jackie Martinez eventually came up with the ball after the short scrum that followed and the Demonettes were able to run the clock out to preserve their win and advance to their first state final since 1997.

“Yeah, I was wide open,” said a dejected Dow after the game. “We set up a good play. It just didn’t fall.”

On Thursday, the Jaguars had no answer for the Demonettes attack early on and shot poorly, falling into a 12-5 hole after the first quarter. The second quarter was much of the same as Valencia made just two field goals and trailed 23-15 at halftime.

Santa Fe scored the first four points of the second half to push the lead to 27-15. But the Jaguars engineered an 11-1 run punctuated by a layup by senior Brenda Baeza with 2:08 left in the third quarter to bring VHS to within two points at 28-26.

“At halftime we just talked about having heart and coming out and playing our game,” said Baeza. “Just doing everything we could to get going.”

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: VALENCIA SENIOR GUARD Karina Dow takes a shot in the lane during the Jaguars’ thrilling 38-37 loss to Santa Fe Thursday in the state semifinals.

Santa Fe would lead 30-26 going into the final stanza, but Valencia continued to attack and took its first lead on a put-back by senior Miranda Chavez. Santa Fe answered that with a 6-0 run that seemed to settle the issue at 36-31 with 4:33 left in the game.

But Valencia did not fold, as Dow hit her pair of treys to put the Jags in a position to challenge for the win.

But the Jags, frustratingly, were unable to get another shot to fall in the final two minutes.

“It was just one of those things where the ball went in and out or fell short,” said VHS coach Manny Vigil. “But we talked about it and probably the part of the game with those shots not going in wasn’t where we lost it.

“Where we lost it was when (Santa Fe post) Sabrina Lozada-Cabbage went out and turned her ankle, and we relaxed. That two minute stretch was when we hurt ourselves.”

Dow scored 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting to lead the Jaguars while freshman guard Lorien Aragon added seven points, all from the free throw line as she went 7-of-8 from the charity stripe. Chavez added six points and Baeza scored five points.

The Jags lose three gutsy, experienced seniors in Dow, Baeza and Chavez as the season ends.

But with Aragon returning along with fellow freshmen Maya Dow and Geneya Sanchez, sophomore post Raeanne Herrera and freshman Destinee Vigil, who sat out from varsity this season due to NMAA transfer rules, Vigil said he has high hopes for the team.

“We’ll be very young (but) skilled and talented,” said coach Vigil. “What we’re going to lack is the (seniors’) leadership, and right here (with the seniors) is the toughness of this team. So as a coaching staff we’re going to have to build that up with these younger ones.”