FARMINGTON — San Juan County will be represented in the championship game of the 69th Annual Gallup Boys Basketball Invite.
Farmington High won a second-round game 41-36 against Pojoaque Valley on Friday to reach the championship. The tournament title game is scheduled to tip-off at 7:30 p.m. today at Gallup High. The Scorpions (6-8) will play St. Pius X in the final.
"I think we surprised everyone out here. Nobody expected us in the final," said FHS head coach Paul Corley.
The win was the fifth in a row for the Scorpions, who started the season 1-8. FHS came into the week ranked by MaxPreps.com No. 20 out of 25 Class 4A teams. By reaching the title game, FHS advanced further than four other teams ranked higher, and will have a chance to play the No. 4 Sartans (6-4).
"Earning these wins really helps. At our tournament, we didn't win a game and took last place. We went to Roswell for the Poe Corn, and we got two wins there, and now we are going to taking home some hardware. It shows we are getting better," Corley said. "I am proud and happy to lead such a great group of guys."
Defensive play was what pushed FHS to a win on Friday. The Scorps trailed Pojoaque 20-10 after one quarter but allowed just eight points in the following 22 minutes and 16 seconds of game time. The Scorps trailed just 23-20 at halftime and 26-24 going into the fourth quarter. FHS outscored the Elks (7-6) 17-10 in the final quarter to take the win.
"We were playing matchup zone in the first quarter, and they hit deep 3s on us. We switched to our man, and it was really effective," Corley said. "We got out on their shooters and turned shooters into dribblers. The guys had poise and battled back. They are a basketball team with no panic."
Farmington was down 11-0 to start the game and 20-4 at one point early.
Alex Whitely led Farmington with 10 points. Max Pinon had another nine points, and Victor Lopez scored eight.
"Our key thing was free-throw shooting. We were 10-of-13, which was much better than the other night against Sandia Prep," Corley said.
Corley hoped Farmington would play District 1-4A rival Kirtland Central in the tournament final, but the Broncos were beat late by St. Pius X on Thursday night. Corley said having both teams in the championship could help bolster the entire district in the eyes of the state tournament selection committee.
Kirtland Central (9-4) lost to the Sartans on a buzzer-beating shot by Emilio Arellano.
"It was a tied game with 20 something seconds left, and I wanted to let the clock tick down a bit, but we turned the ball over before I could get a timeout," said Kirtland Central head coach John Zecca. "They got the last shot, and we didn't do a good job defensively on that last possession. The kid got in the lane and knocked down a 10-footer in the last second."
The Broncos led the game 19-16 at halftime and 34-30 after three quarters. A late 3-point basket by St. Pius X senior guard James Portillos tied the game 45-45 late before Kirtland Central's turnover.
"Turnovers were our big problem. We had only three in the first half and had a lead at halftime. Then we had 13 turnovers in the second half," Zecca said. "They turned up the pressure, and we turned it over."
Kirtland Central led the Broncos with 29 points. Zecca said it has been a sign of problems for the Broncos when Mackey has been around 30 points in games this season.
"In close games, our guys tend to rely on Mackey too much. When we don't get balanced scoring, we have lost," Zecca said.
The Broncos will play Pojoaque Valley for third place in the tournament at 2:30 p.m. today. Zecca said it would have been great to have an all District 1-4A final, but now he will sit back and root for Farmington.
"Both of our teams have had a pretty good tournament to this point. FHS making it to the championship game is impressive," Zecca said. "They have as good of a shot to beat St. Pius as we did, I hope they pull it out."
Navajo Prep 57, Santa Fe Indian 47
Strong defensive play and a huge third quarter propelled the Navajo Prep Lady Eagles to a big road win on Friday.
Navajo Prep (9-5) took a 57-47 win at Class 3A Santa Fe Indian School (7-5). The Lady Eagles outscored the Lady Braves 23-13 to establish a lead they wouldn't relinquish.
"Our defense really picked it up. It was a huge win because of our defense," said Prep head coach Rainy Crisp. "The girls were very aggressive, especially in the third and fourth quarters."
Navajo Prep's pressure man defense forced numerous turnovers that led to easy buckets. The Lady Eagles tallied up 18 steals as a team in the game.
Jasmine Coleman led the Lady Eagles with 18 points. Mathaney Wilson added another 13 points, and Ashley Joe scored eight.
Crisp does want to see her team improve at the free-throw line, where they shot just 11-for-28 on Friday night.
Prep trailed by four at halftime, but the third quarter scoring outburst was enough for the Lady Eagles to build a big enough lead to withstand an early fourth-quarter run by the Lady Braves.
The win capped off a big week for Navajo Prep, which beat Class 4A Farmington, District 1-2A rival and defending state champion Navajo Pine, and the always tough Lady Braves.
"It was a huge week for us. We played three quality teams, and it was great to see the girls finish strong. It gives us a lot of confidence going into the rest of our district games this year," Crisp said.
The Lady Eagles resume district play on Tuesday at home against Rehoboth Christian.John Livingston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4648. Follow him on Twitter @jlivi2.