For the second time this season, the Peñasco Lady Panthers squared up against the Pecos Lady Panthers. In their first encounter, Pecos beat Peñasco in the …
For the second time this season, the Peñasco Lady Panthers squared up against the Pecos Lady Panthers. In their first encounter, Pecos beat Peñasco in the Northern Río Grande championship. Echoes of the first game haunted the second on Thursday (March 14) at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.
Pecos came out like thunder. The energy and momentum were immediately on their side. Though they didn't gain a substantial lead until the final minute of the first quarter, they were able to shut Peñasco down, holding them to 20 percent of their free throws and denying them opportunities to take shots. Though Peñasco made a higher percentage of their attempted field goals (40 for Peñasco to 32 for Pecos), it wasn't enough. A burst of six points from Pecos in the last minute of the first period put the score at 16-9, Pecos.
The second quarter was more painful for the Peñasco Lady Panthers, who were unable to play their game. Their ball control and passing, which usually appear almost effortless, were out of sync. Pecos shut them out for almost the first six minutes of the second quarter while scoring 19 points of their own. They played with the effortlessness and joy of a team in their element, like every point matters and every contest was already theirs. Even when they were ahead 30-9, there was a collective gasp from the bench and the crowd as they waited to see if a 3-pointer was good. (It was.)
By the end of the second quarter, the Santa Ana Star Center sounded more like a museum. There was almost no noise from the crowd.
Peñasco didn't give up. Carly Gonzales broke the scoreboard silence and Peñasco, led by Gonzales and Adrianna Tafoya, quickly racked up 11 unanswered points.
The teams went into the locker room with a 35-20 score that favored Pecos and momentum tilting toward Peñasco.
The Peñasco Elementary Drill Team, applauded equally by fans from both teams, enlivened the crowd during halftime, waking them up from the spell of silence that descended during the second quarter.
Peñasco took their time leaving the locker room and the team was greeted by big cheers. In keeping with their season, the third quarter was their best. Scoring 17 and holding Pecos to 13, the Peñasco Lady Panthers fought their way to a winnable 9 point gap at the end of the third. Though still not playing their usual smooth game, they brought enough energy to compensate.
They didn't have the reserves to hold or elevate the intensity level throughout the fourth.
Every roll of the ball at the rim went Pecos' way while Peñasco struggled. Pecos began to pull away again early in the fourth quarter and was soon 15 points ahead. By the end of the game it was an 18 point difference: 62 for Pecos and 44 for Peñasco.
Pecos knew that in order to win, they'd need to contain Gonzales. "It wasn't easy, especially blocking out Carly. She's strong," said Pecos' Faith Flores during a post-game interview. Though there were successful enough - with 56 total rebounds in the game to Peñasco's 34 - Gonzales was the game leader in rebounds with 8 in the first and 17 in the second for a total of 25. She was also the second-leading point scorer behind only Trinity Herrera of Pecos, who had 25.
Looking at the second half, Pecos had 24 rebounds and 27 points to 21 rebounds and 24 points for Peñasco. "We all wanted it," said Cassandra Muller of Pecos. "We were prepared."
Pecos "came out with a lot of energy, and when you come out with a big lead like that, everything you shoot, you shoot with confidence. There's no pressure," said coach Gilbert Mascareñas.
It's been 21 years since the Pecos Lady Panthers have been in the state finals. They went on to win for the first time in school history by beating Mescalero Apache 53-46 in overtime Friday (March 15).
"I give them a lot of credit," coach Mascareñas said. "They're tough. But I know these girls," he said of his Peñasco players. "When they're on, they're on. Just today wasn't our day."
"I've very proud of these girls," said Mascareñas. "They never gave up. They kept going, and that's all you can ask."
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