RIO RANCHO — Undefeated and top-ranked Tularosa survived an overtime challenge and will face defending champion Texico in the championship of the Class 3A girls basketball tournament Friday at 1:30 p.m. in the Pit.
NO. 1 TULAROSA 74, NO. 4 TOHATCHI 57 (OT): The Wildcats scored the final 19 points of overtime to put away a resilient Cougars squad in a girls Class 3A semifinal at the Santa Ana Star Center on Thursday.
Tularosa (30-0) will move on to play No. 2 seed Texico in the championship at the Pit on Friday at 1:30 p.m.
Tohatchi (26-4) made the Wildcats work to keep their unbeaten record intact. The Cougars slowed Tularosa’s vaunted transition game for the better part of four quarters and stayed within striking distance throughout thanks to 10 3-pointers from the trio of Kalian Mitchell, Crystal Haley and Cheyenne Begay.
Still, Tularosa appeared to have victory in its grasp when Aviana Garcia converted a three-point play with 14.5 seconds remaining in regulation to give her team a 55-52 lead. The Cougars initially struggled to get the ball past halfcourt on the ensuing possession, but Mitchell was fouled by Tularosa’s Kaitlyn Silva while shooting a 3 with 0.4 seconds left. The sophomore point guard, who led her team with 26 points, coolly sank all three foul shots to send the contest to overtime.
“It was almost destiny,” Tularosa coach Joe Estrada said. “It was gonna happen. I knew she was gonna hit those.”
Mitchell gave the Cougars an early two-point lead in the extra session, but when she fouled out with 2:31 remaining and Tohatchi trailing 59-57, the floodgates opened for Tularosa’s game-clinching run.
“(We wanted to) take advantage and just take it to them every time,” junior guard Cassie Vickery said of Mitchell’s absence.
Vickery, who finished with a game-high 35 points, scored nine of the Wildcats’ 19 in overtime as Tohatchi struggled to even get a shot off without its offensive catalyst.
“We knew we could turn the pressure up even another notch,” Estrada said. “But I think we made an adjustment a little bit earlier than that, and we just started manning the shooters up and taking those [3-point] shots away. I believe they started to struggle a little bit there and they didn’t get those easy looks. The momentum kind of swung back our way.”
NO. 1 TULAROSA 74, NO. 4 TOHATCHI 57 (OT)
TOHATCHI (26-4) Kalian Mitchell 26, Crystal Haley 10, Cheyenne Begay 19, Taiya Ahasteen 2. Totals 18-FG 11-15-FT 57.
TULAROSA (30-0) Bethany Betancur 4, Shania Gililland 8, Cassie Vickery 35, Kaitlyn Silva 5, Aviana Garcia 18 Gracie Hooten 4. Totals 26-FG 20-25-FT 74.
3-Point FG: Toh 10 (Mitchell 3, Haley 3, Begay 4); Tul 2 (Vickery 2). Team Fouls: Toh 16; Tul 14. Fouled Out: Toh, Mitchell, Begay; Tul, Silva.
NO. 2 TEXICO 60, NO. 3 EUNICE 54: The defending Class 3A champion Wolverines survived a furious second-half rally from the Cardinals to advance in semifinal action at the Santa Ana Star Center on Thursday morning.
Wolverines senior guard Audrey Wren hit three of four free throws in the game’s final 30 seconds to ice the game for Texico, which saw a 15-point lead evaporate as star forward Brianna Reyna spent the majority of the second half on the bench in foul trouble. Wren led the Wolverines with 17 points, including 10 of 13 from the line.
“Free throws are really crucial, and those win games,” Wren said. “So it’s really important to focus and make those. They really count.”
They were especially crucial on this day for the Wolverines, who scored 13 of their 20 fourth-quarter points at the line. Texico (23-4) outscored Eunice (27-8) by 17 points at the charity stripe.
Ironically, the game began to turn when Reyna picked up her fourth foul with a little more than five minutes remaining in the third quarter. At that point, Texico was up 35-22; by the end up the period, Eunice had cut the deficit to 43-34.
Reyna, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, started the final period but picked up her fifth foul a little more than two minutes later with the Wolverines ahead 47-38. That’s when things got really tense for Texico.
While Eunice would never regain the lead, it got within 52-51 after Clarissa Fite hit a pair of free throws with 2:35 remaining. From that point on, Texico scored eight of its final 10 points at the line for a white-knuckle victory.
“We struggled, obviously. She (Reyna) does a lot of stuff for us,” Texico coach Richard Luscombe said. “Helps us get the ball up the floor, kind of breaks pressure. This is the first time all year we’ve been in that situation. We had a lot of kids that stepped up and did the things that they needed to do to get a win.”
NO. 2 TEXICO 60, NO. 3 EUNICE 54
EUNICE (27-8) M’lee Vinson 8, Harria Mondoza 21, Chantal Orosco 2, Jada Jones 9, Clarissa Fite 14. Totals 19-FG 14-24-FT 54.
TEXICO (23-4) Jaden Stephens 3, Baylee Sours 8, Jasmine Gannon 9, Audrey Wren 17, Brianna Reyna 15, MacKenzie Haakma 3, Emily Hodnett 5. Totals 24-FG 13-46-FT 83.
3-Point FG: E 2 (Vinson 2); T 5 (Stephens, Gannon, Wren, Reyna 2). Team Fouls: E 30; T 18. Fouled Out: E, Kirkland, Vinson, Jones; T, Reyna. Tech.: E, Jones.