Defense once again carried Piedra Vista's girls' basketball team to victory.
Aztec gave the Lady Panthers another good fight Wednesday night at the Jerry A. Conner Fieldhouse, but Piedra Vista was able to claim its fourth win of the season against the Lady Tigers while earning a spot in the District 1-4A tournament championship game against Kirtland Central.
Kelseigh Simpson scored a game-high 18 points while hitting five 3-point baskets to lead the Lady Panthers to a 47-36 win.
"She played to win tonight," said PV head coach Mike Christie of Simpson's performance. "We were able to play very good defense to get it done against Aztec. Four games against them and that has been the key every time."
Though the Lady Panthers (14-13) were able to advance, Christie was anything but satisfied with the performance.
"We were in a panic mode. We have seen it all year long, but I was surprised to see it tonight," he said. "We weren't aggressive. We played not to lose. We got caught being afraid to make mistakes."
Christie was unhappy with the amount of turnovers his team had, estimating the Lady Panthers gave it away almost 30 times.
The game was close throughout, with Aztec (12-15) trailing just 19-16 at halftime and 32-27 after three quarters.
"We never got separation. Every time we got it to seven or eight points, Aztec would make a run to get it inside of five," Christie said. "In the end, we were able to maintain decent separation and get the win."
Aztec head coach Ben Tensay was happy with the effort from his girls, citing a lopsided amount of free-throw attempts for PV as the reason the Lady Panthers were able to maintain a lead.
"Obviously it didn't work the way I would have liked tonight, but the girls worked hard. It is tough when the opponent shoots 30 foul shots and it goes the other way on you," Tensay said. "Our girls had it tonight, and they played their hearts out."
Kassia Barber and Morgan Smith played all 32 minutes for Aztec. Barber led the team with 13 points.
Kaleigh Graham battled through the flu on Wednesday for Piedra Vista. The star center scored just five points, but Christie said she made a big difference rebounding the ball.
"She hasn't been practicing all week, and she played through a lot of weakness after not eating much," Christie said.
After the win, Christie firmly believes his team has a spot in the state tournament, regardless of Friday night's outcome.
"A lot of times they just look at record, but I am not sure how the power rankings and all of that will work. I think we are in," he said. "Our strength of schedule is good. We have some top 10 wins and we have played No. 1 teams. Not many teams have done that. I think we are in good shape. We definitely aren't getting a home game in the tourney, but we have the talent and ability to go beat anybody."
Christie said the Lady Panthers won't be afraid of Kirtland Central on Friday and that his girls are excited to prepare for and play against the Lady Broncos one more time.
Tensay isn't giving up hope that the Lady Tigers will earn a seed in the state tournament, and he is confident his athletic group can hang with any team in the state, especially after Aztec nearly defeated Kirtland Central last Saturday.
"I am waiting for that call on Sunday to see if we are in or not," Tensay said. "There is a lot of parity in Class 4A this year. We might be in, we might not. I don't know. I am not going to throw in the towel.”
Regardless of Sunday's seeding results, Tensay is very excited for the future of Lady Tigers' basketball.
"We are going to have pretty much everyone back. We only lose four girls," he said. "The girls have learned a lot the last two years and are getting better. They are going to be a tough group mentally next year. I am really proud of the way this group of girls have worked and done their jobs."