Lady Panthers top Aztec to advance to The Pit

Karl Schneider

AZTEC – After a three-year absence, the Piedra Vista girls basketball team is returning to The Pit.

The No. 8 Lady Panthers advanced to the 5A state quarterfinals with a 51-46 victory over No. 8 Aztec Friday night at Lillywhite Gym. PV never trailed in the game.

“We worked our tails off this week for this game,” Lady Panthers head coach Joe Reed said. “This is a tough place to play, and it’s a shame these two teams are not going to The Pit. These two teams are easily two of the top-eight teams in the state. Our girls fought hard, Aztec fought hard, and we were lucky to come out with a win tonight.”

Piedra Vista's Nykki Benally lines up a shot over Aztec's Elana Kresl on Friday at Lillywhite Gym in Aztec.

The Lady Panthers started strong, hitting their first three shots to jump out to a 19-7 lead over the first six minutes while connecting on four 3-pointers. But as they would do all night, the Lady Tigers responded and cut the deficit to 28-24 at halftime.

Coming out in the third quarter, PV (17-9) hit Aztec (19-9) with a heavy dose of senior post Autumn Begay, who scored the first 6 points for PV in the quarter to build a 34-27 lead with five minutes remaining.

“When we first got her, we knew we got an athlete,” Reed said of Begay, who had not played basketball since her freshman year. “At first, we called her a garbage player, someone to get offensive rebounds and putbacks. As the season progressed, we weren’t scared to get her the ball because we know she can put it in, and she’s a great free-throw shooter.”

Again, Aztec rallied during the second portion of the quarter and sent the game to the fourth with PV leading 41-39.

The two defenses locked each other down for the first part of the fourth period, and with two minutes remaining, the Lady Panthers led 45-41.

With a little less than two minutes left, PV senior Nykki Benally cut to the basket, sidestepping an Aztec defender, and banked in a runner to make it 47-41.

The Lady Panthers would go on to convert at the free-throw line in the final minute to put the game out of reach 51-43.

Aztec senior Elana Kresl banked in a half-court shot at the buzzer to provide the 51-46 final score.

Aztec's Elana Kresl drives to the basket during a game against Piedra Vista on March 4 at Lillywhite Gym in Aztec.

“We didn’t execute like we were supposed to. The moment got to them,” Aztec head coach Robert McCaskill said. “They worked extremely hard. The last thing we need to do is be confident in our ability and what you can do. They did a great job all season.”

Aztec’s 19-win season is more than the total from the previous two seasons combined, and McCaskill is optimistic about the future of Lady Tiger basketball.

“We have a bunch of eight-graders who are coming up and will be able to help out. And we have a lot of sophomore and juniors,” McCaskill said. “We have the bulk of our team coming back next year. I feel really good about it.”

Benally led PV with 21 points. Elli Wright added 9, and Begay finished with 8.

Kresl led Aztec with 16 points. Makayla McCaskill chipped in 8.

PV will play No. 1 seed Gallup (26-0) on Tuesday at The Pit in Albuquerque.

Moriarty 60, Farmington 47

Farmington’s late-season run came to an end in the first round of the 5A state tournament with the No. 11 Lady Scorps falling to No. 6 Moriarty 60-47 Friday night in Moriarty.

“It seemed like we didn’t play very well," said Farmington head coach Danny Secrest. "We played so sloppy, but we were still in the game. We were down 25-20 at halftime, and we played really bad in the first half.”

FHS (14-14) recovered and briefly took a lead in the final minutes of the third quarter, but Moriarty (21-7) hit a couple of 3s to go back on top. The Lady Pintos would not relinquish the lead the rest of the game.

Working against Farmington, starting point guard Meeya Yazzie suffered a broken nose in the third quarter and was unable to return.

Without its best ball handler and one of its best shooters missing, Farmington struggled to get its offense going in the fourth quarter.

While the Lady Scorps struggled to score, Moriarty constantly attacked the basket and found open players for easy buckets when the Farmington defense collapsed on the dribbler.

Despite missing most of the second half, Yazzie led Farmington with 8 points.

“I’m going to miss these seniors. They’ve been with me for three years and are a great group,” Secrest said. “We came together late and made a run at the end of the season. It just didn’t turn out the way we would’ve liked it.”

Karl Schneider is the sports editor for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4648.