Lady Scorpions top Las Cruces to advance to state semifinals, Kirtland Central wins

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Farmington High School girls basketball team is headed to Albuquerque and the Class 5A state semifinals after a 53-45 win over Las Cruces at home in front of a packed house at Scorpion Arena.

Meantime, the Kirtland Central girls basketball team also stamped their ticket to the state semifinals, posting a big win at home Tuesday night over Valencia. 

And the bid for a third straight state title came to an end for the Navajo Prep girls basketball team, who squandered away a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter on their way to an overtime loss against Crownpoint.

Here's a look back at a busy Tuesday night of prep postseason basketball.

Class 5A

FARMINGTON 53, Las Cruces 45

Behind big scoring nights from senior standouts Audrey Henderson and Kiiyani Anitielu, the fourth-seeded Lady Scorpions edged clear in the second half, outscoring Las Cruces 13-3 in the fourth quarter to advance to the state semifinals Thursday night in Albuquerque and a matchup against top-ranked Volcano Vista.

Las Cruces jumped out to an early lead, thanks to an up-tempo offense led by senior Jaci Powers, who sank a couple of big three-point shots in the first quarter, as well as junior Emma Christiano, who had seven points and five assists in the first half.

The Bulldawgs went into the locker room with a 26-23 lead at the half.

Both teams left points on the boards in the opening half, as Las Cruces missed several second chance opportunities and Farmington couldn't capitalize on several Bulldawgs turnovers. 

Farmington High School's Kamalani Anitielu slips past Las Cruces High's Emma Christiano on her way to the basket in a Girls Class 5A quarterfinal basketball game, Tuesday, March 8, 2022 at Scorpion Arena.

"We need a change in attitude," Henderson said at the break.

Farmington came out aggressive in the second half, challenging the Lady Bulldawgs under the boards and forcing the game to the inside, which led Christiano to pick up her fourth foul early in the final frame.

Bulldawgs junior Lila Ashida was on target much of the night, hitting a pair of three-point shots in the third quarter, but they also missed several open looks in close range which Farmington turned into transition points on the other end of the court.

The game was tied at 40 apiece going into the fourth quarter. 

"We wanted to challenge them," Henderson said after the game. "I thought we could have gotten her (Christiano) out earlier, but it's such a challenge sometimes. They hit some big points all night."

As Farmington was inching clear early in the fourth quarter with a four-point lead, the Scorpions slowed the game down, running nearly two minutes off the clock with efficient passing between Kiiyani Anitielu, who led the Scorpions with 14 points, as well as younger sisters Kapiolani and Kamalani. The possession led to an easy basket underneath by Linsay Yazzie, who gave the Scorpions a seven-point lead with under four minutes to play.

Las Cruces High School's Cameron Rodriguez races to the basket while being defended by Farmington High's Maleah Charley in the second quarter of their Class 5A quarterfinal basketball game, Tuesday, March 8, 2022 at Scorpion Arena.

Farmington took advantage of Christiano's foul situation, as they slowed the game down again with under three minutes in the game, keeping the ball around the top of the key with sharp passing before leading to the game-breaking basket by Kapiolani, who gave the Scorpions a six-point lead in the final minutes.

Kiiyani put the game on ice in the final minute, getting the Scorpions up 10 points after a Bulldawg turnover. 

"I think Kiiyani needs to attack more," Henderson said. "I know she wants to distribute the ball more and get everyone involved and balance it out, but we need her in the next game."

Tuesday's win was the second this season for Farmington (28-2) over Las Cruces. The Lady Scorpions earned the title in the Albuquerque Academy tournament last December beating Las Cruces by a score of 64-46.

The semifinal match against top-seeded and undefeated Volcano Vista (27-0) will take place at the Pit in Albuquerque Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

"We're looking forward to meeting them," said Henderson. "They play a real aggressive press defense and we can move the ball around a lot, so we're just real excited to seeing them."

The winner of that game would move on to Saturday's Class 5A state championship to face either second-seeded Hobbs or third-seeded La Cueva.

For Las Cruces, their season comes to an end with an overall record of 22-7 which includes a District 3-5A championship.

For more information about the Class 5A state semifinals, check out the official brackets and schedules page on the MaxPreps website.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, shown here being interviewed by Farmington High School's Lance Thrower, attended Farmington High School's Class 5A girls quarterfinal game against Las Cruces, Tuesday, March 8, 2022 at Scorpion Arena.

Class 4A

KIRTLAND CENTRAL 51, Valencia 35

The top-seeded Kirtland Central Lady Broncos took yet another step towards a historic 20th state championship, winning their quarterfinal match at home Tuesday night over Valencia by a score of 51-35.

Led by senior Aisha Ramone's 13 points, the Lady Broncos pulled clear in the second half after taking a five-point lead into the locker room at halftime, outscoring the Lady Jaguars 31-20 in the second half. 

The win sends the Lady Broncos to Albuquerque for a Class 4A semifinal showdown at the Pit, where they will face fourth-seeded Portales.

Sophomore Keira Beall-Gleason and Adriona Nargo each scored eight points for Kirtland Central on their way to the win. 

Sophomore Azalia Malizia led Valencia with 11 points, with freshman Jadyn Montoya and junior Zoe Brown adding 10 points in a losing effort. The Lady Jaguars lost twice this season to Kirtland Central, falling to the Lady Broncos 43-22 in a non-district game on Jan. 13 at Bronco Arena.

Kirtland Central improves their record on the season to 25-5, and extend their win streak to nine straight games. The Lady Broncos will face Portales on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. The winner of that game will face either second-seeded Gallup or third-seeded Bernalillo for the Class 4A state title.

Valencia's season comes to an end with a record of 18-12. 

For more information about the Class 4A state finals, check out the official brackets and schedule page on MaxPreps.

Class 3A

CROWNPOINT 39, Navajo Prep 34 (OT)

Overcoming a nine-point deficit midway in the fourth quarter, the Crownpoint High School girls basketball team roared back to force overtime, then outscored Navajo Prep 6-1 in the extra frame to earn a 39-34 win in the Class 3A quarterfinals showdown Tuesday night at Piedra Vista High School.

The victory extends Crownpoint's season to a Thursday morning semifinal showdown at the Pit in Albuquerque, where the Eagles will face top-seeded Robertson.

Crownpoint trailed for much of the Tuesday night game, as the two-time defending Class 3A champion Navajo Prep jumped out to an 11-7 lead after the first quarter, then clamped down defensively on Crownpoint, allowing them only a lone successful free throw attempt during the second quarter.

Navajo Prep took an 18-8 advantage into the locker room at halftime, and still led Crownpoint by a 26-17 margin at the end of the third quarter.

The wheels fell off for Navajo Prep midway through the quarter, as Crownpoint knocked that lead to just a point with under 10 seconds remaining in regulation.

A free throw tied the game and sent it into overtime, where Crownpoint again found their stride. In all, Crownpoint outscored Navajo Prep 22-8 in the fourth quarter and overtime.

This was the fourth meeting this season between Crownpoint and Navajo Prep. Crownpoint lost the first two times they met, but defeated Navajo Prep in last week's District 1-3A tournament semifinals before Tuesday's win in the state quarterfinals.

Navajo Prep finishes the season with a record of 21-7, while Class 3A will have a new champion by the end of the week. Robertson, winners of 13 straight games this season, will face Crownpoint (23-7) for the first time this season. Game time for the Class 3A semfinal match is Thursday at 9:30 a.m.

Brackets and schedules for the Class 3A state tournament can be found on MaxPreps.

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at SBortstein@Gannett.com, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680.