The Peñasco Lady Panthers (3) and Questa Lady Cats (14) are paired together in the first round of the Class 2A New Mexico State Basketball Tournament. Full house expected at Jicarita Peñasco Gymnasium for 7 p.m. start.
It’s one thing to know your adversary. Peñasco and Questa really know each other and will know one another even better after this coming week.
The two teams have already played each other four times thus far.
The Lady Panthers and Lady Cats were paired together in the first round of the Northern Rio Grande (NRG) Invitational Tournament Jan. 4. They met twice during district play Feb. 1 and Feb. 17, and battled for the district tournament championship Feb. 24. With Peñasco garnering the No. 3 seed in the upcoming state tournament, and Questa entering as the No. 14 seed, the two will be meeting for a fifth time in the tourney’s first round Friday (March 2).
In the series, Peñasco has won all four meetings, scoring 256 total points compared to Questa’s 152. In the championship game, the Lady Panthers defeated the Lady Cats 61-37.
“I give coach (Steve) Rael a lot of credit for reshaping that program,” said Peñasco Coach Gilbert Mascareñas, noting the rise of both teams in 2017-18, but specifically the 11-game improvement of the Lady Cats.“They have emerged as one of the toughest teams in our district, and I feel that they have made us better as a team.”
Mascareñas was named the coach of the year in District 5-2A for his 23-4 overall record and 8-0 in districts this season. Bianca Contreras, Carly Gonzales, Adrianna Tafoya and Alaska Lopez were named to the All-District team for their play throughout the district season and in the title game.
For Questa, it was Larissa Passino, AnnaMarie Sanchez and Alexis Padilla who were named to the All-District team.
Rael expressed a bit of disappointment in having to face the Lady Panthers for a fifth time, the third straight meeting between the two teams in as many weeks, but acknowledged that the stakes are the same for all teams from here on out.
“We treated the semifinal game against Escalante as a must-win to get into state,” said Rael, referring to the overtime win in Questa Feb. 23. “So we’re going to try to have the same mentality about our current situation.”
“If we want to advance, we’re going to have to find a way to get them,” said Rael, noting that turnovers have been one of the key reasons for their losses to Peñasco and will have to be remedied. “No matter what, though, I want the girls to enjoy the experience and play loose.”
Rael was alluding to the program’s turnaround in only one year and to the Lady Cat team’s advance to the state tournament. (It has been estimated, but not confirmed as of press time, that the last time the Questa Lady Cats made it to state was 1992.
The first-round game at Jicarita Gymnasium on Friday (March 2) is expected to be sold out. Tipoff is 7 p.m and doors will open at 6 p.m. Cost to enter the gym is $5 for everyone.