The Lady Panthers actually made it look easy in their three games in the "historic" tournament that currently consists of all five teams from District 5-2A, plus McCurdy, Dulce and Pecos from class 3-A.
Outscoring their opponents 163-100, Peñasco aggressively imposed their will on Questa, Mora and Dulce and never trailed in each of their double-digit wins at the 23rd Annual Northern Rio Grande (NRG) girls basketball tournament Jan. 4-6. Led by the guard trio of Bianca Contreras, Alaska Lopez and Adrianna Tafoya, the Lady Panthers were just too fast, too physical and too accurate for their challengers.
Peñasco took care of business against their Taos County rivals, the Questa Lady Cats, by bombarding the scoreboard with a barrage of points in the third quarter to pull away in the opening round. Only up by 10-points (26-16) heading into the locker room for halftime, the Lady Panthers came out after the intermission to pour in an additional 26 in the third stanza - holding Questa to a meager 8-points the entire second half to finish the game at 59-24.
The victory over the Lady Cats in the first round afforded Peñasco a chance to play against their closest geographic neighbor, the Mora Rangerettes in the semifinal round - and an opportunity to end a 16-game losing streak against Mora that stretched back to February 3, 2012. The thread of unfortunate results included a bruising loss exactly one year ago when the Rangerettes defeated the Lady Panthers in the 2017 NRG championships - ending an impressive string of 10 wins and zero losses by Peñasco to start the season. Last year also witnessed a heartbreaking, three-point loss to Mora in overtime during Peñasco’s homecoming February 4, 2017.
This time, Coach Mascareñas and company aptly removed the Mora monkey from their back and snapped those consecutive, not-so-sweet-16 straight losses with a 51-36 win. In the victory, Carly Gonzales led all scorers with 20 points, Tafoya pumped in 11 and Lopez and Contreras each added nine points apiece.
In the marquee matchup, and in the first game of the championship session, both Peñasco and the Dulce Lady Hawks were welcomed into the Ben Lujan Gymnasium by huge crowds from each of their respective communities - creating an electric atmosphere as tip-off time approached. The Lady Panthers brought an energy of their own and quickly used it to jump out to a 17-9 lead to end the first quarter. A stifling full court press by Peñasco held Dulce to just three points in the second period as the lead increased to 19 (31-12) by halftime.
The Lady Panthers maintained their cushion throughout the second half and cruised to a 53-40 final to claim the title and earn the NRG traveling trophy. The three wins boosted Peñasco’s overall record to 12-3 and into the fourth position in class 2A standings (based on New Mexico Activities Association and MaxPreps polls).
Next, the team travels to Las Vegas to take on class 4A powerhouse, Robertson Jan. 10. Tip-off for the non-conference matchup is slated for 7 p.m. The next home game for the Lady Panthers will be against the Raton Lady Tigers when they visit Jicarita Peñasco gym Jan. 16. This is a make-up game that was postponed earlier in the season due to inclement weather and will precede the boy’s game at 5 p.m.
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