District races tightening in final weeks of hoops season

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON − With an eye towards district tournaments and the state basketball playoffs, local and area teams are preparing for the final weeks of the season with a greater sense of urgency.

Here's a glance at some of this week's most important matchups involving San Juan County high school basketball teams.

Boys Basketball

Tohatchi at Navajo Prep, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

The Eagles and Cougars will each put impressive win streaks on the line Tuesday night when they meet for the second time this season on Tuesday night at the Eagles Nest.

Navajo Prep, currently the top-ranked Class 3A team in the state according to the New Mexico Coaches Poll, has won seven straight and have an unblemished record in six games against District 1-3A competition. Tohatchi, which lost their district opener 69-45 at home to Navajo Prep earlier this month, has won five straight games and have a record of 13-7 overall (4-2 District).

Navajo Prep's Orion King gets in between Zuni's Keeshaul Martinez (20) and Kole Eriacho (30) for a short jumper under the basket in the first quarter on Saturday, January 28, 2023 at the Eagles Nest at Navajo Preparatory School.

The Eagles offense has been on fire of late, having scored more than 75 points in four of their last five games, including a 76-24 rout over Zuni last weekend. On average, Navajo Prep has outscored their district opponents by a score of 75-36.

Sandia at Farmington, Saturday, 2:30 p.m.

Coming off a big win at home last weekend over La Cueva, the Scorpions will be looking to make a major push this week towards a higher seeding in the upcoming district tournament.

Cody Vassar-Steen, the team's leading scorer, had a big night against La Cueva, scoring 18 points as the Scorpions earned their first win against District 2-5A competition, beating the Bears 78-62. But Vassar-Steen has some company in the scoring lines, as Hayden Begay dropped 16 points for Farmington, and was joined in double figures by both Trel Griego with 13 and Landon Begay, who scored 10 in the winning effort.

"I've been telling people that these boys are playing better," said head coach Larry-Don Chitty. "We played some suffocating defense against La Cueva for three quarters then had some big 3-pointers and free throws to seal it."

Chitty wanted to get the team out of a negative mindset earlier last week after opening the district campaign with three straight losses.

"Mentally, we needed a win against one of these teams," Chitty said. "We were obviously down after a couple of losses so we just decided to play some dodge ball at practice one day and the guys looked like they still had some fight."

The Scorpions dropped their earlier meeting against Sandia by a final of 79-59 on the road to open the district season on Jan. 17. Farmington is 0-7 against the Matadors in a rivalry that dates back to 2016.

Girls Basketball

Farmington at Piedra Vista, Tuesday, 7 p.m.

In the grand scheme of things, this might look like a mismatch. The Lady Scorpions have won 11 straight games and are currently ranked second in Class 5A by both MaxPreps and the New Mexico Coaches Poll with a record of 19-1.

Piedra Vista has yet to win a district game this season and are 6-14 overall, nursing a six-game losing streak.

But rivalry games can be tricky ones, and a win by the Lady Panthers at home Tuesday night would be a highlight moment for the team.

Piedra Vista owns the advantage in the series, having won 33 times over Farmington dating back to 2006. And while the Lady Scorpions have won three of their last four meetings, Piedra Vista did come out on top in their last encounter in what turned out to be the final game of the regular season for both teams last year.

Navajo Prep at Tohatchi, Wednesday, 7 p.m.

The Lady Eagles already own a district win over Tohatchi, at home on Jan. 21, beating the Lady Cougars by a final of 52-40. Currently the top-ranked team in the state at Class 3A, Navajo Prep is 5-0 in District 1-3A and have won eight straight games.

Navajo Prep's Aniya Johnson looks for a lane to the basket while being guarded by Tohatchi's WynterRose Sheka` during the first quarter of a district basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023 at the Eagles Nest.

Tohatchi, 12-7 overall (4-1 District) has put together a good string of games of late. They've won five of their last six and are led in scoring by junior Brooke Badonie, averaging more than 13 points per game this season.