Ben Lujan Tournament Girls: Teams searching for consistency
JACONA — It is the challenge of every young, inexperienced team trying to find its way through a long, arduous season.
It’s about finding a way to turn those flashes of potential into sustained periods of success.
Christie Abeyta is trying to catch that lightning in a bottle, as is Jose “Majic” Medina.
You can add Seledon Martinez to that list, as well.
For two of those head girls basketball coaches — Abeyta for Santa Fe Indian School, Martinez for Pojoaque Valley — they encountered another road block on that path. The Lady Braves watched a 38-33 lead salt away and the Grants Lady Pirates rallied for a 46-43 win in the opening semifinal of the Ben Lujan Tournament’s girls bracket in Ben Lujan Gymnasium. The second semifinal saw two inexperienced squads — the Elkettes and Medina’s West Las Vegas Lady Dons — show their inexperience, but West Las Vegas was the flashier team in a 44-36 win.
But Elkettes head coach Seledon Martinez put it succinctly about the three teams’ challenges.
“I sat up [in the stands], and all the good teams in this tournament make mistakes,” Martinez said. “We’re all in the boat, I think.”
West Las Vegas takes on Grants for the Ben Lujan title at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Meanwhile, the Lady Braves and the Elkettes will continue their quest for consistency against each other at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in the third place contest.
Where the Lady Dons succeeded and SFIS and Pojoaque didn’t was in maintaining discipline for a long enough stretch to outlast a closing rally from the Elkettes, who cut a 38-24 fourth-quarter deficit to 39-34 when Adrianna Quintana hit a pair of free throws with 44.3 seconds left in the game.
West Las Vegas used its length and quickness to force a flood of Elkettes turnovers to take a 16-2 lead on Allyson Hill’s layup just 20 seconds into the second quarter. The lead, though, always felt tenuous because of turnovers, especially in the second half. The Lady Dons had 13 of them after the break, but it didn’t seem to matter because Pojoaque struggled at the line and with turnovers as well.
“Hopefully, it comes where all of our guards — and really everybody — get more confident with handling the ball and being more strong with it,” Medina said. “[Friday], we were a little weak, we shied away from it.”
It wasn’t until a late 13-2 run got the Elkettes within five points. West Las Vegas went 0-for-5 from the field and had four turnovers in that stretch, while Pojoaque went from cold to lukewarm from the field by hitting 3 of 6. The big shot was a 3-pointer from Quintana that got the Elkettes within 39-32, and that was followed by a double-dribble violation from Annalysse Lucero with a little more than a minute left in the game.
It was one of the few blemishes the senior guard had, as Lucero finished with 16 points and was 7-for-8 from the free-throw line. She hit a pair with 11.3 seconds left that upped the margin to 43-36, and helped her confidence grow in handling pressure situations.
“I go out there and try to play with confidence,” Lucero said. “Coach is always telling me to play smart, that we have confidence in you to lead our team to victory and run the court and be smart.”
On the other side of the bracket, the Lady Braves overcame a rough start that saw them fall behind 20-14 in the second quarter before finding their rhythm. Much of that centered around their young guards taking better care of the ball and working it into the paint — mainly to junior Leanna Lewis, who had 15 points to lead SFIS.
However, Lewis failed to score in the fourth quarter, which put pressure on the young guards to come through in clutch situations. That appeared like it was going to happen when Marlena Yazzie hit a 3 with 3:26 left to give SFIS a 41-36 lead. But inexperienced reared its head as the Lady Braves turned the ball over six times in the last 3 minutes.
“We’re not taking care of the ball and doing the things we need to win games,” Abeyta said. “I don’t think we’re hitting a wall. It’s all about developing.”
That allowed Lady Pirates wing Destiny Chavez to carry her team to the win. She nailed back-to-back 3s to get Grants within 43-42, then watched as both teams went through a dizzying 90-second stretch in which they combined to turn the ball over seven times before an Alyssa Anzures steal fed Caroline Bachman for a layup with 27 seconds left for a 44-43 Lady Pirates lead.
Chavez sealed the win with a pair of free throws, as Yazzie’s 3-point heave with 6 seconds left was an air ball and Bachman rebounded it to seal the win.
The handwriting was on the wall when the Mora Rangers beat the host Elks 65-60 in the opening round: Mora-Pecos was meant to be for the Lujan boys title.
SFIS, though, tried all it could to throw a wrench in those plans, but Mora held on for a 62-61 win. Meanwhile, the Panthers strolled to a 68-40 win over El Paso Bel Air in the other semifinal.
After the Rangers (5-2) rallied from a 15-8 deficit to take a 30-21 lead at the half, the Braves relentlessly pressured their foe in the second half. They used it to cut the lead to 46-41 after three quarters, then chipped away until Kurt Candelaria came alive at the right time.
The Braves junior hit back-to-back-to-back 3s in a 90-second span to turn a 53-50 Mora lead into a 59-53 Braves edge with 2:35 left. Mora, though, used a timeout to regroup and held SFIS (8-4) scoreless until Nick Kaye’s layup with 6 seconds left.
“The shots weren’t falling for all of us,” Mora senior forward Santiago Laumbach said. “We had to pick up our defense that much more.”
In between that span, Laumbach had a free throw and a shot in the paint to cut the margin to 59-56, then Samuel Abeyta and Alonzo Aragon had matching steal-and-layups within 35 seconds of each other to make it 60-59 with 39.6 seconds left.
Laumbach added a pair of free throws with 22.7 seconds left for a three-point lead.
Meanwhile, the Panthers (5-1) were more methodical in their aggressiveness, as the Highlanders (7-6) tried to slow the tempo down and use their 2-3 zone to force Pecos to shoot from the outside. Pecos took care of that by hitting 10 3s on the day, with Josh De Herrera hitting three of them to finish with 13 points.
That augmented the play of Carlos Cordova (15 points) and Mario Archuleta (14).