Los Lunas girls basketball blasted through the first round of the state tournament, beating Bernalillo in a sound 64-26 victory.
The Lady Tigers (26-3, 8-0) and Lady Spartans started slow as neither team scored until three minutes into the game. Those first two points came in the form of a pair of free throws from Bernalillo freshman Juliana Aragon.
However, Los Lunas’ offense picked up in a hurry.
“Early on, our timing was off,” said Los Lunas head coach Marty Zeller. “We didn’t have the ball movement we wanted. We made an adjustment and got the little things going.”
By the end of the first quarter, the Lady Tigers were up 21-5. At the half, they were up 42-14, with sophomore Natalie Jojola leading all scorers with 22 points.
Jojola finished the game with 27 points, 18 of which coming from behind the arc.
The Lady Spartans never recovered from the heavy blow they were dealt in the first half, and Los Lunas cruised to their 21st consecutive win.
The Lady Tigers kept their winning streak alive at The Pit as they defeated Hope Christian 57-44, thus qualifying for a semifinal game against Gallup on Thursday.
“(Hope) came to play,” said Zeller. “We knew we had to master physicality. They’re bigger, but we have the advantage ball-handling.”
Los Lunas struggled early, trailing Hope Christian by a point at the end of the first quarter. After a small run to start the second, the Lady Tigers gained a 25-22 lead at halftime.
It was the second half when the Lady Tigers really found their stride.
Led by 11 third-quarter points from senior Marissa Weldon, Los Lunas increased their lead to 44-36 before the fourth quarter. They maintained that lead for the rest of the game.
Weldon finished the game leading all scorers with 24 points.
“It’s not always me who takes charge, but we’re ready for it,” said Weldon. “I was mentally ready.”
Though a smaller squad, Los Lunas was not mismatched in the rebounding department. The Lady Tigers only had one rebound less than the Huskies, with the team total being 34 and 33 boards. Part of their success was due to sophomore Feleena Galbadon. Galbadon had 12 boards and was the only player in double figures rebounding.
“We knew since they were going to be more physical than us and bigger than us, we just had to get in there and get those boards regardless,” said Gabaldon.
If Los Lunas wins on Thursday, they will have qualified for the state final for the third consecutive year and have the opportunity to win their second consecutive state title.
“We don’t expect anything; we have to earn everything,” said senior Jaidyn Schollander. “We’re going to play every possession like it’s our last.”
The younger players on the squad are excited for an opportunity to prove themselves on the big stage. Though many of them have a few years of experience on varsity, this is the first year where they have played a large role in the squad’s success.
“I’m a little nervous, but I’m more excited,” said sophomore Mia Guest. “I’ve been on the team for two years, but I haven’t really played. Now that I’m playing, I feel like the girls have accepted me and know my role on the team.”
The Lady Tigers will square off with Gallup at The Pit at 11:30 a.m. Thursday.