Texico’s Victoria Richards, center, looks for an opening between Penasco defenders in the Class 2A state championship at The Pit in Albuquerque Friday. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
By Dave Wagner: CN sports writer
ALBUQUERQUE — Depth and tenacity earned the Texico Lady Wolverines their first Class 2A state basketball championship since 2002.
Fighting from behind most of the way, Texico scored 19 fourth-quarter points and held on in the final minute for a 41-38 victory over top-seeded and top-ranked Penasco on Friday at The Pit.
Junior guard Faith Martin scored 11 points and senior forward Leslie Vannatta hit a key 3-pointer, putting Texico (27-4) ahead by seven points with under three minutes left.
But the Lady Wolverines struggled, sinking just 1-of-8 free throws in the final 1:07 before freshman Victoria Richards stole an errant inbounds pass near midcourt in the closing seconds to seal it.
“I’m just proud of these young ladies,” second-year Texico coach Keith Durham said. “It hasn’t been easy, but we certainly peaked at the right time.”
Texico also captured the state volleyball title in the fall.
“It’s kind of extra special because it’s our second state title this year,” Martin said. “Plus, it was great getting to play in The Pit.”
Texico won the school’s fifth girls basketball title by putting the Panthers (24-2) into a situation they’d rarely seen all season, a smothering man-to-man defense against an iron-man Penasco squad that went virtually the entire way with its starting five.
Assistant coach Aaron Griego took over the team this season when his younger brother, Romolo, was hospitalized for more than three months after being diagnosed with a perforated ulcer in early September. Romolo Griego watched the finals from the stands.
Aaron Griego said it was an emotional day for the Lady Panthers, but added that they did everything they could.
“We went up against a good team,” he said. “They’re disciplined, and their bench is strong also.”
Vannatta’s 3-pointer opened a 38-31 lead with 2:50 to go. Martin, who scored eight points in the period, then ended a long Texico possession with a layup off a feed from Richards to make it 40-33.
A long 3-pointer by Estrella Lopez made it 41-38 with 34 seconds left, but Texico forced the last two of 23 Lady Panthers turnovers in the remaining time to hang on.
Durham said he thought his team would pull through despite missing five potential game-clinching free throws in the last 28 seconds.
“I wasn’t that nervous because I knew we’d play good defense and they’d have a hard time shooting a 3-pointer,” Durham said.
Three players did all the scoring for Penasco — sophomore guard Ellen Cruz with 17, Lopez with 14 and junior guard Miranda Vigil with seven.
Cruz was quick to credit Texico.
“They played really good man-to-man defense, and they were very quick,” she said. “We’re used to teams playing zone against us.”
She added that the Lady Panthers had to go away from their man defense because of foul concerns. That also led to a 35-22 domination of the boards by Texico, she said.
“It’s easier to box out in man, and they were getting a lot of second shots,” Cruz said.