By Arnie Leshin
There were a number of turnovers and the parade to the foul line wasn’t pretty, but Saturday night’s girl’s championship game of the annual Northern New Mexico Rio Grande Invitational was as close as this and turned into a dandy of a final.
It was a clash of Pecos and Penasco, two 2A schools that will meet again in two weeks, and might even get it on at the state tournament. That’s how close the two are in talent, and the reason that Pecos held on for a 57- 54 victory at Pojoaque Valley.
Panthers versus Panthers made it tough for the public address announcer, and you heard “Go Panthers” from both sides.
But the Mora boys weren’t going to allow a Pecos sweep. They surprised the two-time defending champions, 73-67, as they did in 2016 in topping the Panthers, 62-59, in the final. While the Rangers advanced to 8-6 in an undefeated week under new head coach Marcos Sanchez, Pecos’ back-to-back state champions dropped to 12-3.
That was the tournament closer. In the opener, it was such a tight tussle, it brought 15 ties and a dozen lead changes. The largest lead came at the start of the third quarter when Pecos led 29-22. In turn, Penasco led three times by four points.
“I thought it was a real good game,” said Pecos head coach Ron Drake. “Three of their players fouled out, and we lost two in addition to senior Faith Flores coming out with a shoulder injury near the end of the first half.”
Pecos’ Panthers are now 10-2 and Penasco’s Panthers 9-3. They will meet up next at Penasco in non district play.
Penasco held its last lead at 51-50 late in the final quarter. Then, following the last tie at 51-all, Pecos took the lead for good on a 3 tossed in by Brittany Martinez that made it 54-51. It was her second of the contest and she and Trinity Herrera finished with a team-high 13 points.
They and Muller made good on a pair of 3s each. From that point, both teams scored three points apiece, and Pecos just maintained its edge.
The first tie was at 4-4. Four more came in the opening quarter and two more before halftime when Pecos went up 27-22. Eight lead changes followed as neither team could extend its advantage.
It was 14-14 at the end of the opening quarter, and Pecos’ 13-8 second quarter brought the halftime lead. But Penasco came away with a 20-12 advantage in the third quarter to take a 42-39 lead heading into the final eight minutes when it was outscored 18-12. Martinez and Alexis Gonzales turned in 10 points each for Pecos in that span.
The game high scorer was Penasco junior Carly Gonzales with 21 points.
As for the free throw shooting, the teams combined for 72 attempts, with Pecos converting 23-of-37 and Penasco 20-for-35.
“We’re usually average from the foul line,” Drake said, “but this was not what we wanted, and they were just as bad.”
The boy’s final was also close. The Panthers had huge leads over Penasco and Dulce in easily winning their first two starts. But this time, Mora didn’t let it happen and was within 15-14 after one quarter. In the next quarter, it was Ranger time as they outscored Pecos, 16-11.
It was 45-42 Pecos after three, but when Sanchez felt the Panthers were tiring, he let his team run, and when it did, it was able to nail down the title.
Carlos Muller, Jr., of Mora, was the game high scorer with 23 points that included five 3-pointers. Jerome Pacheco contributed 13, and for Pecos it was Xavier Padilla scoring 18, two more than Ismael Villegas.
Sanchez took over only four days ago when Carlos Arellano was fired.
Boys 3rd place: Espanola McCurdy 69, Dulce 60 — The Bobcats made a push in the fourth quarter to increase a 49-46 lead to the final score. Ernesto Martinez and Kemmer Croff tossed in five points each in the final quarter for McCurdy.
Boys 5th place: Escalante 68, Questa 27 — The Lobos closed to within a 6-7 record as their defense held the Wildcats to only nine first-half points and dropped Questa to 2-9. Dakotah Gonzales scored 10 of his game-high 12 points in the first half, and teammate Anthony Ulibarri also tossed in 12.
Boys 7th place: Mesa Vista 66, Penasco 33 —Damian Trujillo paved the way for the Trojans with 33 points, with 17 in the first half of his team. Teammate Julian Quintana added four 3-pointers and wound up with 18 points.
Girls 3rd place: Dulce 46, Mora 24 — The Hawks were in charge the entire game, opening up a 14-point lead at halftime and extending it. Their defense also excelled in holding the Rangerettes to six or fewer points in each of the last three quarters.
Girls 5th place: McCurdy 41, Questa 39 — The Wildcats fell just short after falling behind 13-0 and rallying in the second quarter and second half to lose a close one as McCurdy held off the challenge.
Girls 7th place: Escalante 46, Mesa Vista 39 – The Lobos picked up a game-high 22 points from Kalese Torres, while the Trojans’ high scorer was Amarissa Quintana with 10 points.