It was a 4 ½ hour drive to Texico for the Pecos girls Saturday, and despite a 55-53 loss to the top-ranked team in 2A, the Panthers made a statement that they, too, belong in the conversation for state honors.
Pecos has never won a state basketball championship, the Wolverines have won eight. This one went down to the final buzzer when the Panthers had the ball but failed to knot the score or win it with a 3.
“We played well,” said Pecos head coach Ron Drake. “We stayed with them, were down by nine and were up by six. And we were thankful for a 29-point game from sophomore Tiffany Herrera, 11 coming in the fourth quarter.”
The result left Texico at 18-3 overall and 3-0 in the new District 7-2A. The second-ranked Panthers dropped to 17-4 overall and 2-1 in district following wins over Santa Rosa and Clayton in the 4-school district. On Feb. 22, George Washington’s official birthday, the Wolverines take the long road to Pecos.
The two matched up in last year’s state quarterfinals and Texico had the upper hand, 54-34. But this time, it was a tight battle that brought seven lead changes and five ties. It was 53-49 in favor of the home side in the final 1:30 when Herrera tossed in a 3-pointer to cut the gap to 53-52.
“We had the ball last,” Drake said, “and wanted Tiffany to drive to the basket and either score or get fouled for a 3-point play, but their defense collapsed on her and kept her from even getting off a good shot.”
And that was it. A big turnaround for Drake’s girls, and one that should bring them confidence for the return game. The veteran coach said it wasn’t a bad trip home because the team realized how close it came to winning this one.
Pecos led 33-30 at halftime, but the Wolverines went on a 15-6 run to take a 45-39 lead in the third quarter. But back came the Panthers to knot the score at 53-all when senior Cassie Muller made good on one of two free throws with a minute left in regulation.
But it was Texico that broke the tie and scored the game-winner, with the visitors than falling short at the final buzzer. Senior Faith Flores contributed nine points and Muller tossed in seven.
The next stop for Pecos is a non district test on Feb. 16th at 3rd-ranked Penasco. The two played for the championship in the Northern New Mexico Rio Grande tournament and the Panthers won by two.
With a short field of teams in their district, Pecos now has second-time contests versus Santa Rosa, Clayton, and Texico prior to the district tournament and followed by the state tournament fields.