BERNALILLO – Five times turned out to be the charm for Lordsburg in the Class 2A State quarterfinals, March 6, as they took a 39-36 victory over District 3-2A nemesis Mescalero.
For Mescalero, it was another heartbreaking loss in the quarterfinal round, in a game which they were leading with less than two minutes left.
“We didn’t shoot well, and when you don’t shoot well, you won’t win many games,” said Mescalero coach Elmer Chavez. “We had the lead, and I told them to shoot free throws and layups, and we still tried two threes.”
Mescalero (27-2) had played – and beaten – Lordsburg four times already this season: Once in the Cloudcroft Mountaintop tournament, twice in district play and once in the district championship two weeks ago.
Each time, the Mavericks (21-7) were able to chip away at the margin of victory before finally figuring out how to beat the Chiefs.
For two quarters, it was certainly working, although Lordsburg wasn’t exactly scoring a lot. The teams were tied at 7-all after the first quarter and 20-all at halftime.
The first period saw Mescalero with its largest lead of the game, a 5-2 advantage after five straight points on jump shots by Ramona Fossum and Fallon Velasquez and a free throw by Tunte Baca.
But a three-pointer by Anissa Plowman – who finished with 11 points and three treys overall – tied it up at 5-all with 1:37 left in the quarter.
Yes. At 1:37 in the first quarter, the teams had combined to score just 10 points.
Things picked up a little bit in the second quarter, with Madison Miller making her presence known inside with layups and rebounds.
Miller finished with 18 points and 18 rebounds on the night.
On the other end, the Chiefs had three players in double figures – the same three that were in double figures in their win over Escalante in the first round – Katelyn Yuzos with 16 points, Ramona Fossum with 13 and Velasquez with 10.
That trio was scoring, just not as much as they had against Escalante. Velasquez was never able to get untracked from beyond the three-point line, while Fossum and Yuzos found themselves forcing shots inside against Miller’s defense in the paint.
At one point, Lordsburg had a 33-29 lead with 6:38 left, but then the Chiefs started getting things into gear.
Two free throws by Yuzos and a layup by Fossum tied it at 33-all with 5:20 left before Gabby Artiaga put the Mavericks back up y a pair less than a minute later.
Yuzos hit a free throw with 4:32 left and then the Chiefs finally re-took the lead on a pair of free throws by Velasquez with 3:51 left.
After Yuzos hauled in a rebound – she finished with 16 – Mescalero just had to hold onto the ball long enough to either run out the clock or force the Mavericks to foul to stop the clock.
A fouling strategy by Lordsburg might have worked, as the Chiefs were 11-of-18 from the line and there were no guarantees they’d make their free throws.
But Mescalero made it all a moot point by trying to shoot a three. It was a shot that missed and Miller got the rebound.
“I told them, ‘free throws and layups,’ and they tried to shoot threes. That’s why I was angry with them,” Chavez said. “They have to listen and be coachable and execute the game plan.”
At the other end, Lordsburg’s rebounding advantage came through as Ryan Roybal put back a missed shot to put her team up 37-26 with 1:27 left.
After a miss by Mescalero, it was the Mavericks’ turn to play keepaway and run out the clock.
It almost didn’t work. The Chiefs fouled down the stretch to put Lordsburg on the line, but they missed their shots. They also missed a few layups that would have put the game out of reach before Mescalero got the ball back.
They found themselves still down by just one and inbounding the ball under the Maverick basket with 15 seconds left, but threw away the pass, handing the ball – and eventually the game – to Lordsburg.
“We had the lead, and we worked our butts off to get that lead,” Chavez said. “We finally got it and tried those threes.”
One positive – at least for most of the team – is how young the Chiefs are. It’s a heartbreaker for Katelyn Yuzos as the only senior on the squad, but everyone else will be back for another go next season.
“We just have to keep getting better, go back to work and keep improving,” Chavez said. “It’s a tough road when you have one bad like game like this and get beat, and the last two or three games, we were struggling.
“But we came back before and took care of the ball to win,” he added. “We didn’t do that tonight. They got nervous and they have to learn to handle that pressure.”