Another year, another undefeated district run for the Los Lunas Lady Tigers.
The Tigers beat St. Pius X 53-36 on Friday night at LLHS to secure the District 5-4A tournament title.
LLHS got off to a bit of a slow start as the Sartans gave them their best shot.
There was a lot more on the line for SPX, who is currently ranked 17th in the coaches poll and was desperate to keep their season alive.
Early on, it worked. Los Lunas only led by three after the first quarter, 13-10.
Head coach Marty Zeller said it can be hard for his players to believe that they will be faced with a tough game when the last time the two met, the Tigers won by nearly 40 points, 64-26.
“They’re fighting for everything they have,” Zeller said. “We had to know it was going to be a dogfight.”
He asked his team to play and hustle as though they were the underdog, which he didn’t feel they did until the second half.
A few minor tweaks at halftime were all the changes LLHS made, but putting more pressure on the ball proved to be the one that made the difference.
In the second half, the Sartans offense crumbled under the Tigers full court press and gave the opportunity for Los Lunas to create some separation and produce shades of how nearly every district game has gone this season.
“We created some things on defense that led to some easy baskets and allowed us to do what we do,” Zeller said. “The speed that we have, they were in the right position at the right time.”
Upping the intensity paid dividends for the Tigers as their execution also improved.
Offensively, LLHS went from running set plays to what Zeller calls their money plays which lend more to the teams strengths instead of working on plays in other areas.
“I give Pius all the credit in the world,” he said. “They played their hearts out and it was a well-fought battle.”
The Sartans had to pull off an upset to even reach the final, beating No. 2 seed Grants in Wednesday’s semifinal.
In their opening-round game on Monday, SPXHS stuck it to Valencia, 44-9 at home in the matchup between the third and fourth seeds in the tournament.
The Sartans drop to 14-13 with the loss, while Los Lunas improves to 23-14.
The Tigers have now won 18 straight games and will host St. Pius again on Friday night at 6 p.m.