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Girls state basketball tournament first round tonight has tough tasks

By Arnie Leshin 
Droughts, droughts and more droughts, hopefully the St. Michael’s girls leave them behind when they hit the road for tonight’s opening round of the state basketball tournament at Navajo Prep. 
 
The Lady Horsemen are happy to gain a post-season berth. They have had an up-and-down season under first-year head coach Sonya Ruiz, a busy person who once coached the Pecos girls and now is also a full-time math teacher at St. Michael’s.  
 
But even a math teacher can’t piece together why her Lady Horsemen went on a roller-coaster ride during the regular season. 
 
Obviously, droughts also contain shutdowns that occurred when the scoreboard home or away had a big zero under St. Michael’s. Defense wasn’t as big a problem and brought them some close victories, but not finding the range was costly and made for other tight tussles.
 
At least, the team has been able to call on three-year starting point guard Lauryn Pecos, a 5-foot-7 junior who was sidelined for quite some time following knee surgery. Now she’s back, leads the team in scoring, assists and steals and leadership, but has missed a soccer season. 
 
The other half of this one-two punch is another junior, 5-9 Carmen Pacheco, who came off a stellar volleyball campaign, She’s been the rebounding leader, the second-leading scorer, and strong on the defensive end.
 
As was Pacheco in serve and voiley, 5-6 senior Milana Keene has also been busy as the veteran goalkeeper for the soccer program that won state 3A in 2020 and was runner-up in 2021. If that wasn’t enough, she also kicked extra points and field goals for the football team.
But injuries have hurt, especially losing senior 5-7 forward Claire Patten to a season-ending knee injury,
So even with a talented group, poor shooting has been damaging. Pecos is the leading outside shooter, but needs more support.
Will it come tonight when they run into a strong, 4th-seeded Navajo Prep that is 20-6, experienced, quick, and especially tough at home where the Hawks draw big turnouts.
Also in the 3A pack is top-seeded Robertson (24-1), and it will face district rival,16th-seeded Raton (11-16) at home. Then’s there’s No. 2 seed Santa Fe Indian School (18-6), which will take on visiting 14th-seeded Albuquerque Sandia Prep (11-14), and the 11th-seed is West Las Vegas (9-14) and it will play at 6th-seeded Socorro (17-6).
In 4A, the top seed is Kirtland Central (23-5) and it will play host to 16th-seeded Miyamura (12-15). There’s also No. 6 Taos (21-6) home to No, 11 Espanola Valley (10-14), and 13rd-seeded Los Alamos (9-13) travels to No. 4 Portales (21-4). Aside from the Broncos, the biggest threat here is 2nd-seeded Gallup (23-3),
in 5A, Santa Fe High has had a decent season in a mediocre district. It went 18-9, finished second to Albuquerque High, and was stuck with the 16th-seed and a trip to top-seeded, undefeated Volcano Vista, (24-0), the defending state champion with 38 straight wins, is experienced and quick, and is extra tough at home before big turnouts.
But the Demonettes had no choice. Even 4th-year head coach Nate Morris figured they would be handed the last seed. But he said it would be a huge test for a team that will enter next season with a senior-laden crew.
“We will learn from this,” he said, “will try to slow them down and look for good shots if we get them.”
The last time Santa Fe High won a state girls basketball title was in 2014 in 4A. In 2011, it drew a very good Kirtland Central as a first-round opponent on the road and was blown away 74-25.
Now it figures to be another tough task. Morris would like to bring a stunning upset home, but it’s a little too much to ask for.

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