Josh Gallegos

Belen junior Josh Gallegos focuses before taking a shot during the Abby Paiz Invite held at Tierra Del Sol Golf Course in Rio Communities on Tuesday afternoon.

It came down to the last shot, but the Los Lunas boys’ golf team claimed the crown in the Abby Paiz Invitational at Tierra Del Sol with 375 points on Tuesday. Belen placed second with 376 points, and Valencia placed third with 396.

“It doesn’t matter if you win by an inch or a yard or a shot,” said Los Lunas head coach Marty Zeller. “A win is a win, and we won by a shot. It was nice to beat Belen on their home course. And it’s a district (invite), so that’s always special.”

The Tigers were led by Alejandro Gonzales, who shot an 81 on the day and placed second individually. AJ Garcia shot a 94; Bryce Chavez shot a 94; Calvin Jiron shot a 101 and Joe Dominguez shot a 110 to round things out for Los Lunas.

Zeller spoke highly of Gonzales’ performance and ability to focus on the course.

“(Gonzales) does a lot of other activities with his church group,” said Zeller. “He’s doing other things and making himself a well-rounded person. And he still comes to the course with the right kind of focus and concentration.”

The hosting Belen Eagles were led by Mateo Tapia, who shot a 91 to place fourth individually. Erick Venuti shot 93; Josh Gallegos shot a 94; Gabriel Hessinger shot a 98 and Hyson Savilla shot a 108. Though he was competing individually, Alexes Aguilar shot an 87 and placed third overall.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” Belen head coach Donald Marquez said. “We actually had a freshman — Cesar Perez — who shot a 94. He played very well. We’re a team lead by seniors, and they just work so hard. They’re hard workers and athletes. They have a strong mentality and I’m proud of what they do.”

Valencia’s 396 points were courtesy of 92 points from Elija Saavedra, who placed fifth individually. Kyle Henson shot a 94; Elija Sanders shot a 98; Israel Romero shot 112 and Preston Gantt shot a 124. The Jaguars head coach, Milton Torres, said Saavedra was a good example of the team’s hard work.

“(Saavedra) has proven that hard work pays off,” said Torres.

Torres also noted that four of his seven returning golfers are shooting under 100, despite all of them shooting over 120 last year. With district just around the corner, he believes his young squad has a chance to turn a lot of heads in the area.

“Being a part of the two cats in Valencia County makes us a stronger group,” said Torres. “They work hard together.”

On the girls’ side, Belen was the only local team to compete. However, of the four teams with female golfers, Belen sat at the top. The Eagles boasted the top three golfers of the day. Annabell Montoya placed first with a 92, while Melissa Gabaldon placed second and Eryn Jaramillo placed third with a 94 and a 95, respectively.

Marquez said all of Belen’s girls qualified for state on Tuesday. He said their chemistry on the course has been very helpful as all have traded leadership roles throughout the season.

“Annabell is very young, but she’s been my No. 1 for a while now,” said Marquez. “She’s very important to the team, it’s really all the girls together. All three of them compete well.”

Eryn Jaramillo.

Belen senior Eryn Jaramillo, who placed third, prepares to putt on Tuesday.

The District 5-4A championship will be held at Los Altos in Albuquerque on May 6. St. Pius is the team to beat in both the boys’ and the girls’ competitions. However, all three squads remain optimistic.

Zeller thinks Tierra Del Sol was a good course to prepare for district and state. As the game is a mental game, he said, golfers have to learn how to overcome adversity and manage their shots.

“At Belen, you have to use your course management,” said Zeller. “You have to be selective with your clubs and put yourself in position for great shots. It’s a kind of course where you have to learn how to overcome adversity.”

Marquez said his girls team can compete with the best in the state and they have a real shot at winning the district crown. He also said Belen’s boys squad might have a chance of taking district if he can get his top golfers back on track.

“I’m really proud of what our kids do,” said Marquez. “Golf isn’t an easy sport. They fight to win.”

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