Mescalero Apache downs Peñasco for first state championship

By Matthew Narvaiz
Posted 3/13/20

ALBUQUERQUE – First-time state champions - and it wasn’t the No.1 Peñasco Lady Panthers (30-3) who came away with the victory.

No. 2 Mescalero Apache, state runner-ups a season ago, came away with the 69-54 win over the Lady Panthers on Friday (March 13) at the Pit. And in front of no fans.

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Mescalero Apache downs Peñasco for first state championship


ALBUQUERQUE – First-time state champions. 

And it wasn’t the No.1 Peñasco Lady Panthers (30-3) who came away with the victory.

No. 2 Mescalero Apache, state runner-ups a season ago, came away with the 69-54 win over the Lady Panthers on Friday (March 13) at the Pit. And in front of no fans.

Fans and media were barred from the NMAA’s state basketball tournament late Wednesday evening (March 11) as concerns over the coronavirus dominated headlines, and at the guidance of the New Mexico Department of Health and Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. It was later announced that limited media could attend. 

Amid the chaos surrounding the tournament, the two teams played on.

And the fire for that coveted blue trophy was very much alive. 

“We wanted that blue trophy so bad,” Mescalero Apache senior Fallon Velasquez said after her team’s victory. “All those 7 a.m. morning practices, we just had one thing in mind and it feels so good to finally get it.” 

Mescalero Apache grinded Peñasco down much of the second half, as the two-seed in Girls Class 2A managed to hit eight 3-pointers and use a combination of stifling defenses on their way to victory.

Velasquez was dominant throughout as she finished with 32 points and 10 rebounds and made 4 of her 8 3-pointers on Friday. 

In fact, Velasquez was the first Lady Chief who scored as she sank consecutive free throws. Those free throws eventually spiraled into a 10-5 run for her team. 

Mescalero Apache (28-3) came charging back.

A 3-pointer from senior Alyn Kazhe-Kirgan put  the Lady Chiefs up 6-5 — their first lead of the game. 

But Peñasco senior Carly Gonzales closed out the quarter with “predator mentality,” a term head coach Mandy Montoya has used throughout the season. Gonzales found the basket on an open layup to tie the game up at 10 points apiece — and shortly before the buzzer sounded. 

That momentum carried over into the second quarter for Peñasco. Freshman Martina Tafoya hit two 3-pointers in the second to extend her team’s lead to 23-16 with under three minutes before the half. 

Mescalero Apache was playing catch up — and looked to be gaining steam as the game clock wound down. The Lady Chiefs scored eight points over the final period and trailed by four points. 

Peñasco looked to get out to a fast start in the third quarter when Gonzales scored on a layup and nailed a free throw after she was fouled hard by a player from Mescalero Apache. 

But the Lady Panthers instead slowed down. The Lady Chiefs capitalized. 

Mescalero quickly jumped out ahead and went on a 13-0 run – helped in part by two big 3-pointers from Velasquez and junior Tunte Baca — to take a 48-35 lead in the third quarter. Those were two of just five 3-pointers in the quarter. 

"Keep pushing the ball, they’re dying,” Chavez said he told his team during a timeout in the third quarter. “‘Keep pushing the ball.” 

“So we kept pushing the ball,” he added. “Then pretty soon [after that] their press was dead.” 

Montoya, however, disagreed with the notion that her team wore out at the game’s later stages.

“No, these guys don’t get tired,” she said. 

Mescalero Apache had entered the fourth quarter leading by 10 points and showed no signs of slowing down. 

A 3-pointer from Baca kept her Mescalero Apache squad up in the final quarter of play.

Martina Tafoya hit her third 3-pointer for Peñasco to try and mount a comeback. Adrianna Tafoya capped a 7-0 run, but was met with resistance and warded off by an 8-2 Mescalero run that gave them a 63-50 lead. 

Velasquez was dominant in the fourth quarter. She scored 10 points in the frame and went a perfect 8-for-8 from the charity stripe during the stretch. 

Mescalero Apache junior Brynn Martinez and senior Ramona Fossum finished with nine points each for their team. 

Gonzales led the Lady Panthers with 18 points and 14 rebounds. She finished 4-of-12 from the field. 

Adrianna Tafoya was the only other Peñasco player to score in double digits, as she finished with 14 points. 

Gonzales expressed frustration after what was her team’s toughest loss to date. 

“One thing I regret as a leader of this team is taking control of my teammates,” Gonzales said at a press conference shortly after the game. “That means changing attitudes, changing the way we pass the ball and move the ball. … But I do love my teammates and I’m fortunate to have these girls.”

Senior Alexandria Sandoval lamented the family sentiment of Gonzales. 

“Win or lose, we are still family,” Sandoval said.

Adrianna Tafoya said that playing in a state championship game without fans was tough. 

Montoya agreed. 

“I think it’s tough, especially for small communities like us that really rely on the fan support,” Montoya said of playing in an empty arena. 

An empty Pit arena didn’t have an effect on his Mescalero Apache team, Chavez said. His players were just working hard for a victory. 

“They are that way normally,” Chavez said of the joyful and loud Mescalero bench that cheered on their teammates on the court throughout the game. 

The Lady Chiefs finished with 31 rebounds to Peñasco’s 38, but were able to shoot 45 percent from the field on their way to victory.

Peñasco was able to make just 10 of its 18 free throws. 

This is Peñasco’s fourth appearance in a state championship game in girls basketball. 

The Lady Panthers have lost all four of their state championship appearances, including, most recently, in 2018 to Fort Sumner/House. 

This is Mescalero Apache’s first state title – and one that came a season after finishing as runner-ups to Pecos.


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