RIO RANCHO — One sizzling start plus one fast finish sent the top two seeds to the Class 6A girls state championship game.
Top-seeded Cibola and No. 2 Hobbs used entirely different formulas to earn semifinal victories Thursday at the Santa Ana Star Center. The Cougars came out red-hot and led all the way in a 51-37 win over No. 5 Las Cruces. The Eagles needed a finishing flourish to pull out a 43-33 win over No. 6 Rio Rancho.
The outcomes will pit the state’s top seeds — and high-scoring cousins Amaya Brown of Cibola and Amaya Lewis of Hobbs — against each other in a battle for the blue championship trophy. The matchup is Saturday at 4 p.m. at Dreamstyle Arena — the Pit.
“We’ve been waiting for this since last year,” Brown said of the family showdown. “We talked about playing each other for a state title. It’s going to be fun.”
The teams met earlier this season with Cibola taking a 63-59 home win in overtime.
CIBOLA 51, LAS CRUCES 37: Brown racked up a crazy stat line with 11 points and a career-best 21 rebounds and eight assists. Freshman Azia Himeur drained four early 3-pointers to help the Cougars (26-2) hold off the Bulldawgs (26-5).
Brown set the tone by banking in an early 3 as Cibola raced to leads of 10-1 and 16-3. Himeur swished three straight 3s during the span, forcing Las Cruces to abandon its half-court zone defense. Himeur failed to score in the Cougars’ quarterfinal win over Piedra Vista, but her 12 points changed Thursday’s game.
“I was really nervous coming into the game,” Himeur said. “Seeing a couple of those shots go in made me feel a lot better.”
Cibola coach Lori Mabrey felt the same way.
“Those 3s were huge,” she said. “Azia had been really beating herself up after the last game. For her to bounce back and give us that kind of spark in a state semifinal was awesome.”
Brown later scored in transition, and Kayla Martinez hit a pair of mid-range jumpers as Cibole extended its lead to 30-10 midway through the second quarter. Martinez racked up her own double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds.
“Everyone told us you should zone Cibola,” Las Cruces coach Matt Abney said. “We’re not really a zone team but we tried it and (Himeur) just shot the heck out the ball. What can you say?”
The Bulldawgs steadily chipped their way back into contention, getting as close as 43-34 with 3:05 left in the fourth quarter. But Las Cruces went just 3-for-13 from 3-point range and could not hit often enough to climb out of the early hole. Sarah Abney, the coach’s daughter, scored 16 points for the Bulldawgs, who were outrebounded 43-26.
LAS CRUCES (26-5): Brooke Salmon 5, Valeria Valtierra 2, Deanna Sifuentes 0, Alexia Gonzalez 0, Alexis Clark 0, Christina Aguayo 5, Alexis Lewis 0, Janessa Johnson 9, Sarah Abney 16, Shooty Molinar 0, Destiny Ortega 0. Totals: 14-45 FG, 6-12 FT 37.
CIBOLA (26-2): Amaya Brown 11, Kayla Winters 0, Azia Himeur 12, Grace Salmon 0, Paige Pyke 7, Adamari Waddell 2, Kayla Martinez 14, Sydney Hopkins 5. Totals: 18-48 FG, 10-17 Ft 51.
Las Cruces 8 8 10 11 —37
Cibola 18 12 10 11 —51
3-Point FGs: LC 3-13 (Salmon 0-1, Johnson 1-2, Abney 2-10), C 5-10 (Brown 1-3, Himeur 4-6, Waddell 0-1). Rebounds: LC 26 (Salmon 7), C 43 (Brown 21). Assists: LC 2 (Aguayo, Johnson), C 12 (Brown 8). Team fouls: LC 14, C 15. Fouled out: LC Abney, Aguayo; C Brown, Waddell.
HOBBS 43, RIO RANCHO 33: Timing was everything for Amiah Smith and the Eagles, who finally broke open a grinding defensive struggle in the final six minutes.
Smith hit her team’s only 3-pointer to give Hobbs (29-2) the lead, and Lewis scored 10 of her game-high 21 points down the stretch to put the game away.
Neither team shot well, particularly from 3-point range where they combined to go 2-for-27. But the Rams (23-8) also struggled inside with leading scorer Kamirah Decker limited to 18 minutes of action by foul trouble.
The score was tied at 27 for more than five minutes before Smith’s critical 3-pointer with 5:54 left.
“Once it left my hand I knew it was going in,” Smith said. “It was good to score and finally give the team some momentum.”
Lewis later scored five consecutive points to help the Eagles clinch their first championship-game appearance since 2003. Smith finished with 10 points, while Avanna Smith chipped in six points and 17 rebounds.
Decker paced the Rams with 13 points and seven boards.
“Having Kamira in early foul trouble obviously hurt us,” Rio Rancho coach Scott Peterson said. “I thought both teams defended well and I’m proud of our kids. Hobbs just outrebounded us and hit a couple big shots when it counted.”
RIO RANCHO (23-8): Laura Gutierrez 7, Michaela Meyer 0, Julia Chavez 5, Maddy Mares 0, Abree Aldaz 0, Camryn Hawkins 8, Emily Lopez 0, Mitchel Mortensen 0, Lexi Peterson 0, Kamirah Decker 13. Totals: 10-45 FG, 12-14 FT 33.
HOBBS (29-2): Amiah Smith 10, Cienna Herrera 0, Desiree Martinez 0, MacKenzye Gibson 0, Ashley Aragon 0, Ciara Mackey 0, Amaya Lewis 21, Za’Riah Griffin 2, Ayanna Smith 6, Kiara Knight 4, Mariah Jennings 0, Kenzie Turner 0, Elise Turrubiates 0, Saqqary Baker 0. Totals: 15-54 FG, 12-21 FT 43.
Rio Rancho 9 12 6 6 — 33
Hobbs 7 14 6 16 —43
3-Point FGs: RR 1-14 (Gutierrez 1-7, Chavez 0-1, Mares 0-1, Peterson 0-5), H 1-13 (Amiah Smith 1-3, Martinez 0-1, Gibson 0-1, Lewis 0-2, Ayanna Smith 0-1, Knight 0-5). Rebounds: RR 35 (Chavez, Kecker 7), H 47 (Ayanna Smith 17). Assists: RR 3 (Hawkins 2), H 5 (Knight 2). Team fouls: RR 19, H 13. Fouled out: none.