In an empty Dreamstyle Arena on Friday night, the Los Lunas Lady Tigers did what they do. Head coach Marty Zeller was referring to defense when he made the remark, but he could easily have been referring to winning championships.
The Los Lunas Lady Tigers became only the second team since 2001 to win three straight state championships on Friday night, beating Kirtland Central 47-33.
With no fans allowed in the arena due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19, there were only 100 people allowed in the building at any time.
“If I’m being completely honest, it was horrible,” Dani Ross said, drawing laughs from her teammates. “I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but our bench definitely made up for it. At times, I didn’t even feel like I was in an empty Pit.”
Banned from the arena, the Los Lunas parents instead organized a watch party for the game at Cavalry Church in Belen.
“We have a great support system, they’re amazing,” Ross said. “We’re so grateful, we couldn’t do it without them, whether they’re here or not.”
Los Lunas, which beat St. Pius X, Bloomfield and Highland to reach the final, shot the lights out.
The Lady Tigers shot 52 percent from the field, going 17-for-33 from the floor and 40 percent from three-point range in addition to being perfect on seven free throw attempts.
“Even though there are times when our offense goes stagnant and we don’t execute as well as we could, we executed extremely well tonight,” Zeller said.
However, it was the hallmark defense of LLHS which really earned them the victory.
Heading into the second quarter of action, it seemed as though the two were heading into a back-and-forth battle which would last all night as Los Lunas held a slim 15-12 lead.
Then, in the second and third quarters, Kirtland Central was only able to put up five points, allowing Los Lunas to gain some separation.
The third quarter was when the Tigers really pulled away, coming out after halftime and only allowing the Lady Broncos one point the entire quarter, going on a 10-1 run to turn a 23-16 halftime lead into a 33-17 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
KCHS only had one player score in double figures, as Melanie Yazzie finished with 11 points for the Lady Broncos, but Yazzie got there on 4-of-14 shooting.
“We did the job defensively, that’s for sure,” Zeller said. “Only one of their players got in double figures. That’s one of our goals. Focus on the defense and the rest will come.”
Contrasting with the Lady Tigers terrific shooting night, things didn’t go so well for the No. 2 seeded Lady Broncos, who shot a measly 10-of-41 from the floor, good for 24 percent from the field.
LLHS also dominated on the glass, outrebounding Kirtland 31-18.
In her final game as a Tiger, Ross led the way on the glass with eight rebounds to go along with her 11 points.
Feleena Candelaria finished the night with eight points and five rebounds after leading the team the past two days, recording a 16 point, 10 rebound night against Bloomfield as well as a 16 point, nine-rebound performance against Highland and helped to carry the Tigers to this point.
“Last year, I was like ‘coach, I don’t want to go in I’m scared, I’m gonna throw up,’” Candelaria said. “This year he was like ‘you can’t throw up, you have to play, we need you in there.’ Thinking back, the support system I have from my team, my coaches, my family and (my teammate’s) families, I knew I had to go out there and get the job done.”
“It wasn’t easy and I wanted to throw up but I didn’t tell them that. It means a lot to be able to be here with all these people.”
The Tigers finish their season with a 24-4 record, a 22 game win streak and bid farewell to Class 4A on top.