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Class 3A girls final: Pit crowd roars approval for Tohatchi title

It was like days of yore Friday at the Pit. No, Craig Neal and the woebegone Lobos were not rocking New Mexico’s venerable, half-century-old arena.

It was the rowdy fans from Tohatchi having come to the big city to root on their Cougars to the school’s first girls state championship.

And the near estimated 10,000-strong did not leave disappointed after a fourth-quarter surge gave third-seeded Tohatchi a 57-50 win over No. 1 Eunice in the Class 3A girls title match.

Eunice’s Harria Mendoza (14) looks for space between Tohatchi’s Samantha Belone (40) and Cheyenne Begay (30) Friday.

Eunice’s Harria Mendoza (14) looks for space between Tohatchi’s Samantha Belone (40) and Cheyenne Begay (30) Friday.

Tohatchi (26-5) outscored the Cardinals (27-4) 29-12 over the last 8 minutes 20 seconds of the game, with Cheyenne Begay hitting a 3-pointer with three minutes left to give the Cougars their first lead.

“That 3 Cheyenne hit was so huge,” Tohatchi coach Tanisha Bitsoi said. “From then, it was all them. They were little coaches on the floor themselves. They obviously can’t hear me and they took over the game.”

Indeed, the decibel definitely elevated at that point.

“It just felt really good and I felt really comfortable and I felt like I belonged there,” said Begay, who had 15 points. “Hearing the crowd, it just hurt my ears, but it was a great feeling hearing that.”

It was a game-changer in many ways, Eunice coach Jimmie Jones said.

“They had a frenzy —  that’s what we like to call it — a frenzy of events that happened. They scored real quick, got a 3, and swung the momentum and swung the crowd back in their favor,” he said. “It got deafening there for a minute or so after that happened. Congratulations to them and congratulations to their fans because they were the sixth man today. No doubt about it.”

From that point on, the Cardinals were grounded.

“It was crazy. You couldn’t hear nothing. It was hard to hear what your coach is saying, or what’s going on. It’s hard to talk to your teammates. Your ears are hurting,” said Eunice junior Jada Jones, who scored 18 points. “And it gets in your head, when everyone is yelling. You have to calm your players down and it was hard to do.”

Still, it was a moment to be remembered, said fellow Eunice junior Harria Mendoza, who had 25 points and 11 rebounds.

“It was a fun experience,” she said. “We practiced it in our gym before. We knew it was going to be rowdy, but we didn’t know it was going to be this rowdy. We just felt like we started speeding it up and playing at their pace instead of playing the way we were playing at the beginning of the game, which was at our pace.”

Bitsoi and the Tohatchi players joked that their hometown was probably deserted Friday.

“They cancelled school,” said Cougars junipr Kalian Mitchell, who scored 20 points. “And they brought the buses and brought the students.”

No. 3 TOHATCHI 57, No. 1 EUNICE 50

TOHATCHI (26-5): Kalian Mitchell 5-12 9-12 20, Crystal Haley 1-5 2-4 4, Shaundina Whitney 0-0 0-0 0, Voneisha Cecil 0-0 0-0 0, Brianna Denetso 2-4 0-0 5, Cheyenne Begay 5-12 1-3 15, Gabrielle Thomas 0-2 0-0 0, Sierra Petterson 0-0 0-0 0, Samantha Belone 1-4 4-4 6, Sherika Watchman 1-2 0-0 3. Totals: 16-43 18-25 57.

EUNICE (27-4): Alexis Dean 0-0 0-0- 0, M’lee Vinson 1-7 3-4 5, Aide Frazier 0-2 2-2 2, Harria Mendoza 12-17 1-4 25, Jada Jones 7-16 4-8 18, Gabby Sanchez 0-4 0-0 0. Totals: 20-46 10-18 50.

Tohatchi      12      19      11      24 — 57

Eunice         15      12      11      12 — 50

3-point FGs: T 7-22 (Begay 4-6, Denesto 1-3, Mitchell 1-3); E 0-11 (Jones 0-5, Gabby Sanchez 0-4, Vinson 0-2). Rebounds: T 30 (Belone 11); E 38 (Mendoza 11). Assists: T 12 (Mitchell 7); E 8 (Jones 5). Turnovers: T 7; E 10. Steals: T 3; E 4. Blocks: T 0; E 0. Total fouls: T 16; E 14. Fouled out: T, Mitchell; E, Vinson.