ALBUQUERQUE — Los Lunas girls basketball beat Gallup 70-47 on Thursday to qualify for a third consecutive appearance in the state championship game and an opportunity to win their second consecutive state title.
Los Lunas (27-3, 8-0) struggled offensively early in the game, trading leads with Gallup throughout the first half. At the end of the second quarter, the Lady Tigers were up only six points with a 33-27 score.
Things changed in the second half. Led by sophomore Natalie Jojola’s 15 second-half points, the Lady Tigers breezed through the third and fourth quarters and outscored Gallup 37-20 in the final 16 minutes.
Jojola, who finished the game leading all scorers with 28 points, said she had a good feeling before the game began.
“It all starts from warm-ups,” said Jojola. “Once you hit that first free throw or lay-up or 3-pointer, you know it’s going to be there the next time.”
Jojola was one of three Lady Tigers in double figures. Sophomore Mia Guest dropped 15 points and senior Jaci Aragon chipped in with 10.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Lady Tigers showed no mercy. Finishing the game with 18 total steals, they kept their opponents’ impact minimal.
“(The seniors) are a big part of defensive unit,” said Los Lunas head coach Marty Zeller. “They made things happen today.”
Up next for Los Lunas is a the state tourney final against Kirtland Central. The last time the two faced each other, the Lady Tigers fell 54-47. Though Kirtland Central is a top seed and one of the few squads who beat them, the Lady Tigers are not intimidated or anxious.
“There’s no chip (on our shoulder),” said Zeller. “We’re just going to play the game one play at time, one possession at a time.”
Los Lunas and Kirtland Central will tip off for the NMAA 4A State Title at Dreamstyle Arena at 7 p.m., Friday.