It was much closer than it looked, which was perhaps a positive development for La Cueva and Volcano Vista.
Ultimately, the Hawks’ 68-51 win in the final of the Albuquerque Metro Championships at West Mesa on Saturday night felt like an expected outcome for the tournament’s top-seeded girls basketball team.
Future UNM Lobos, guards Natalia Chavez and Jaelyn Bates, finished with 24 points apiece for Volcano Vista (11-0) in the win over No. 2 seed La Cueva (8-4).
And yet, this was the first time anyone pushed the Hawks into the fourth quarter with a true challenge, and this 17-point margin was their closest of the season.
“We were tested, and we need more games like that,” Volcano Vista coach Lisa Villareal said. “I’m glad we had that game right now.”
The Hawks improved to 3-0 this season against La Cueva, but the Bears, who played at a high level in the first half and for most of the third quarter, trailed only 41-35 entering the fourth.
Bates provided Volcano Vista the much-needed separation it was seeking in the clutch.
Bates buried a 3-pointer early in the quarter for a 44-35 edge, but it was a three-point play moments later that was the crusher. Kennedy Brown at the other end created a turnover and tipped a pass to Bates who was already running the other way. She was fouled as she laid it in off the glass, and that sequence put the Hawks in front 48-35.
Bates, echoing her coach, said a competitive game like Saturday’s was a healthy thing.
“It just really helps us understand that we’re not gonna be able to blow through every single team, like we have been,” she said.
Chavez was 6 of 10 on 3-pointers in her 24-point effort.
“(La Cueva) played really good the first three quarters, and we needed to pick it up a little,” Chavez said. “They were putting more pressure on us, and they played a lot more aggressive this time.”
Nina Romero had 21 points, and five 3s, to lead La Cueva.
“We definitely would have loved to win the metro tournament, but we learned a lot from each of these games (against Volcano Vista),” Bears coach Marisa Cogan said. Her team lost by 26 and 20 points in the first two meetings. “It gave us a lot of insight into what we can do to become a better team.”
The first half featured eight lead changes and four ties. La Cueva (which shot 55% from the field in the first half) was still leading midway through the third quarter until Chavez banked in a 3 from the top of the key for a 36-33 lead, a lead the Hawks didn’t relinquish.