In one spherical swoop, the 2016-17 basketball season is over. Making it to the first round in the state basketball tournament were the Taos Lady Tigers (12-15), Peñasco Lady Panthers (15-10) and the Questa Wildcats (17-8), but in games that took place March 3-4, all Taos County teams were eliminated.
Taos Lady Tigers
The Lady Tigers eked into the tournament as a No. 16 seed and faced the best team in Class 4A – and defending state champions – Hope Christian Lady Huskies (26-2). The result was a 53-27 final loss for a young Lady Tigers team that entered the season with a new coach and was in “rebuild” mode after the loss of several seniors to graduation last year.
Leaving the program this year is Taos’ lone senior, Elena Espinoza, who has been a major contributor to the Lady Tigers program for the last three years. Along with Aaliyah Quintana, Espinoza has been the second half of a potent guard combo that has produced the majority of points this year – leading to unanticipated wins throughout the course of the 2016-17 campaign.
During postgame remarks after the last home game Feb. 10, Espinoza expressed her gratitude for all the years of fan support and encouragement.
“I want to thank everyone for being there for me and the Lady Tigers,” said Espinoza.
Of the three Taos County teams, the Questa Wildcats finished with the best overall record and district success. The Wildcats started the season with a 6-4 record to start the season and knocked off perennial juggernauts Mora and Escalante during the regular and district season, respectively.
In the end, though, it was an unfortunate draw for the Wildcats, who ended up seeded No. 10 and had to travel more than six hours to the furthermost corner of the state to play the No. 7 Jal Panthers (17-9) in the regional match of the state tournament. The Wildcats and the Panthers would seesaw their way through much of the contest, but Jal would emerge as the victor, winning 66-56 March 4.
The Wildcats finished the 2016-17 season with an overall record of 15-11 and will lose eight seniors to graduation, including T.J. Madrid, Jeremy Cintas, Miguel Rael, Toby Ortega, James Martinez, Marcos Vigil, Gabriel Gallegos and David “Bubba” Trujillo.
Peñasco Lady Panthers
Four times didn’t turn out to be the charm for the No. 11 Peñasco Lady Panthers, who were pitted against a familiar rival, the No. 7 Escalante Lady Lobos, March 3. On top of having to play Escalante again in the first round of the state tournament, the Lady Panthers had to make the trip to Tierra Amarilla for the game, and wintry conditions prevented Peñasco from traveling directly over to Tierra Amarilla on U.S. Highway 64. Thus, the road trip was made longer via the Española/Abiquiú route.
It was Escalante’s night on the court, as a series of ball-handling mistakes and missed free throws at key moments for Peñasco caused the Lady Panthers to fall behind early in the game. A late-game surge by the Lady Panthers fell short as time ran out and the hometown Lobos ended the Peñasco state run by a final score of 62-50.
And while many communities will make the annual trek to the epicenter of basketball in our state, Taos County teams usher in the spring sports season. . . . Perhaps not so sad.