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Girls Class B: Elida attempts to continue run

When it comes to who should be considered the favorite, maybe there isn’t any mystery at all for the Class B girls state tournament.

That doesn’t mean that all the questions have already been answered, however.

For instance, one puzzle all season for the smallest school ranks is just how good Evangel Christian might be.

The Albuquerque basketball team cruised through the 2013-14 campaign with a sparkling 20-5 record, with some victories achieved against schools with some decent basketball history.

But then that fifth loss provided an extra surprise in the other direction. Walatowa Charter, a Jemez Valley school, improved to 12-10 overall and avenged two earlier losses to Evangel by beating the Eagles 50-47 Saturday night.

Walatowa as a result got into the tournament, received the eighth seed in the draw and will now play top-seeded Elida (17-8), the prohibitive favorite in Class B.

“The team to beat is Elida,” Mosquero coach Bob Libby said. “Two through eight is pretty even.”

Elida has won every girls state basketball title since Class B was reactivated in 2010.

“I think we’re well-balanced,” Tigers’ coach Dan Howard said. “We’ve got good guards, good big girls inside and we’re pretty deep on the bench.”

The guard combo of senior Hunter Haley and junior Marily Varela keeps the wheels in motion for the Elida offense. Haley leads the team with 14 points per game, but Varela and six-foot senior post Kaylen Jasso also average more than a dozen per contest.

The biggest challenge for Howard may be to keep his girls from being too confident.

“We talk about it a lot,” the Elida coach said. “I humble them a lot. We try to stay focused.”

Awaiting Elida in the semifinals, barring a major quarterfinals upset, will be the winner of the Mosquero-Carrizozo contest. Mosquero (16-6) is the fourth seed while Carrizozo (14-12) took the fifth.

Libby’s Pirates are led by junior center Gabriella Vigil and his daughter, forward Taylor Libby.

On the other side of the bracket, Corona (17-5) has the second seed and will play Reserve (13-13) in one quarterfinal contest. The Cardinals lived up to their number two seed a year ago when they advanced to the title game opposite Elida.

“We’re really young actually,” sayd Joseph Erramouspe, in his first season of coaching Corona. “We lost to Mountainair, Loving, Eunice, Evangel and Elida. Elida is so complete – if you shut one down, somebody else will step up.”

Corona is paced by the play of sophomore point guard Saige Bell and junior shooter Corey Egan. If the Cardinals do advance to the semis, it could be a rematch against Evangel Christian.

The Eagles are led by junior Rachel Gonzales, who can either take the shot from outside or run Evangel’s offense from the point guard position.

First things first for Evangel in the quarterfinals is Grady, which finished with an 11-12 season record but challenged Elida for the Class B championship three years ago.

“We don’t have a lot of bigs. We’ve got a lot of runners, so we like to get out and run,” said Evangel Christian coach Mike Heffron, whose team was drummed out of last year’s state tournament by Des Moines in the first round.

But Heffron thinks that 30-point loss will be beneficial for the Eagles who have returned.

“When they get there, their nerves are going to be a lot better,” he said.