Week of regional basketball action provided melting pot of action, drama on the hardcourt

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Last week started off with an extremely loud thunderclap. It came in the form of a collective shout from Taos Tiger fans that erupted after a buzzer-beating shot dropped for senior Isaac Esquibel to beat the Los Alamos (LA) Hilltoppers Jan. 10.

The win against the slightly bigger Los Alamos team – in both school size and average height of individual players – helped keep the Taos Tigers undefeated in games played at home for the year and improved Taos' record to 7-8.

In front of a light crowd, Taos jumped out to an early lead and managed to keep it for the majority of the first half with short jumpers and long-range shots from Landen Archuleta, Quinn Moon and Esquibel. The first tie of the game came at the 1:30 mark in the second period, and the first lead change occurred with 3:50 left in the third quarter off a three-pointer from LA's Antonio Trujillo.

Taos was able to regain the lead with three minutes left in the game, but a crucial turnover at the 2:30 mark led to another tie with 1:40 left in regulation. Unable to capitalize on offensive possessions down the stretch, both teams would turn to their defenses to carry the tie score down to the three-second mark. A pair of inbounding errors from each team led to Taos possessing the ball out of bounds on LA's end line and a chance to break the 46-46 quagmire.

A long pass from Jude Suazo connected with Esquibel, who beautifully executed a lateral move to the left side of the court and dropped a three-point shot as the final buzzer sounded to win the game for the Tigers, 49-46. The exciting finish created and ear-popping roar from fans inside Otero Gym and a frenzied celebration in center court by Taos Tigers players.

The win gave Taos its second in a row after a victory in Ruidoso and would be followed by another win against the Socorro Warriors in the opening round of the Hope Christian Tournament in Albuquerque Jan. 12. The Taos Tigers beat the Socorro Warriors 59-45 in the second meeting between these two schools this year. In their first clash, Taos came away with the victory – beating Socorro at home 56-48 Dec. 20, 2016.

In the semifinal round, Taos lost to its interleague foes, the West Las Vegas Dons, by a final score of 68-51. The Tigers were down by as many as 22 points in the prelude-to-districts matchup, but were able to trim the lead to 17 by the end of regulation.

The third-place game was a bit closer for the Tigers, who went head to head with the Shiprock Chieftains Jan. 14. In that contest, Taos stumbled in the closing moments as calls and momentum favored Shiprock – handing Taos its ninth loss of the season with the 57-51 final score.

Taos played its district opener against the Pojoaque Elks (10-6) on the road after this section went to press Jan. 17. Up next for the Tigers is a return to Otero Gymnasium to take on St. Michael's High School in a renewed entanglement between former rivals as the Horsemen (8-9) return to District 2-4A. Taos is also scheduled to play the West Las Vegas Dons (11-3) at home Jan. 25. All district varsity games are tentatively set to begin at 7 p.m.

Taos Lady Tigers

In games dating back to Dec. 13, the Taos Lady Tigers have gone 3-5 as they navigated their way through a monthlong stretch of road games that saw Taos play only once at Otero Gymnasium in that period. Most recently, Taos dropped three of four games in losses against the Los Alamos Lady Hilltoppers Jan. 10, Los Lunas Lady Tigers Jan. 12 and West Las Vegas Lady Dons Jan. 14.

The Taos Lady Tigers' sole win came at the Hope Christian basketball tournament in the consolation semifinal game against the Socorro Lady Warriors Jan. 13.

Taos (9-8) experienced a homecoming of sorts when the team played host to the Pojoaque Valley Elkettes (8-8) after this section went to press Jan. 18. The Lady Tigers go back on the road as they visit the Lady Horsemen (8-8) of St. Michael's Jan. 21 and the West Las Vegas Lady Dons (12-4) Jan. 24. Both games tip off at 7 p.m.

Questa Wildcats

The Wildcats split their last two games, losing to the formidable Class 3A Laguna-Acoma Hawks (8-5) on the road 54-51 Jan. 12. The team beat the Trojans from Antonito, Colorado, 57-43 Jan. 14.

The two-game stretch saw the return of David “Bubba” Trujillo to the Wildcat lineup after a long hiatus due to an injury incurred during the football season.

In his home debut, Trujillo entered the game for the first time at the 1:51 mark in the first quarter. The senior's first points of the season inside the “Mini-Pit” came off a three-point shot with 7:02 left in the second period.

Questa was scheduled to play against the Academy for Technology and The Classics Jan. 16, but the game was postponed due to inclement weather. The Wildcats (7-5) traveled to Cuba to take on the Rams (13-4) after this section went to press Jan. 17. Questa begins its district season with a home game against Escalante High School Jan. 19. The District 5-2A tilt with the top-ranked Lobos (9-6) is slated to begin at 6:30 p.m.

The Wildcats continue their league schedule with an away game against Mora High School Jan. 21 in a rematch with the Rangers (10-7) that saw Questa overcome a late-game deficit to beat Mora in overtime in the third-place game of the Northern Río Grande (NRG) tournament Jan. 7. Tipoff is tentatively set for 5:30 p.m.

In a makeup game that was postponed due to an ongoing water issue Dec. 17, the Wildcats will play the Cimarrón Rams (4-7) Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m.

Peñasco Lady Cats

The week in regional basketball ended in silence. Silence in the sense that the Peñasco Lady Panthers have yet to see any resolution with regards to the cowbell they have yet to ring.

Peñasco played against the Ratón Lady Tigers – a traditional cowbell team – in a regular-season game that should have put the cowbell up for grabs, as is the tradition. The snub continues, however, as Randy Casper, tournament director and Springer High School athletics coordinator, refuses to part with the traveling trophy – citing a verbal agreement with Peñasco that its teams could not possess the cowbell if they happened to win the tournament championship. Part of his insistence was the lack of opportunities to have the bell “in play” with other cowbell teams.

The most recent game against the Lady Tigers was a counterargument made by both Peñasco and Ratón to recommission the bell. However, pleas to Springer High School officials have largely fallen on deaf ears. Peñasco coaches and administrators refute the existence of any verbal agreement with Casper.

On the court, the Lady Panthers (11-1) defeated Ratón 62-44, which meant they would have kept the prize until the next game against a cowbell team. Two upcoming regular-season games against the Questa Lady Cats would have been the next opportunities for the bell to be up for grabs.

Peñasco traveled to Dulce for a non-conference game against the Lady Hawks (8-8) after this section went to press Jan. 17. The Lady Panthers open district play with an away game against the Mora Rangerettes (6-10) Jan. 19 and another non-conference game against Laguna-Acoma (10-5) on the road Jan. 20. Peñasco ends its non-conference schedule with a game against the Coronado Lady Leopards at Jicarita Gym Jan. 21. Game time is 4 p.m.

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