BERNALILLO — Bring on The Pit.
Third-seeded Peñasco reached one of its season goals with a 60-45 win over No. 7 Lordsburg in the Class 2A state girls basketball tournament in a rocking Richard Joseph Kloeppel Gymnasium at Bernalillo High School — courtesy of a huge Lady Panthers fanbase.
Next up is the title game against fourth-seeded Ft. Sumner/House at 5:30 p.m. Friday in The Pit.
Ft. Sumner/House (20-10) upset top-seeded Logan 40-38 in a morning semifinal.
“We might be a little nervous at first, coming down the ramp at The Pit,” Lady Panthers sophomore post Carly Gonzales said with a smile. “But we’ll be fine. All season, we had a goal of playing in The Pit.
“But we also have a goal of winning the state championship.”
Gonzales had a lot to do with helping Peñasco (26-4) attain the first goal, playing an outstanding first half offensively and keeping Lordsburg’s 6-foot freshman post, Madison Miller, locked up on the defensive end.
“Carly is [listed as 5-8], and she was giving up three or four inches to their tall girl,” Lady Panthers head coach Gilbert Mascareñas said. “But Carly won’t back down to anybody. I told her to keep running her, because [Miller] is just a freshman and she would wear out.”
The Lady Panthers tried to make sure they didn’t wear out like last season. They looked to be a state contender after starting out 10-0, but they finished just 18-10 and 4-4 in District 5-2A.
“We played a lot of small schools last season, and we weren’t ready for district,” Mascareñas said. “So this year, we played a real tough schedule to get ready for this tournament. This summer, we played in Colorado and Carly had to go against a girl who was 6-5. Carly didn’t back down to her, either.”
Gonzales had 15 points and a game-high 16 rebounds, while holding Miller to just five points. Miller did have 15 boards, but it was Gonzales’ big first half that helped the Lady Panthers to an 11-6 lead after the first quarter and 28-14 cushion at the half. Gonzales scored 11 points and had 10 rebounds by the half.
“Carly is such a workhorse,” Mascareñas said. “She made some big plays.”
Gonzales’ strong inside game opened it up for junior guard Alaska Lopez on the outside. Lopez destroyed Lordsburg in the final 10 minutes.
Lopez buried a 3-pointer with less than two minutes remaining in the third quarter to make it 40-22, Peñasco, then scored her team’s first 12 points of the fourth quarter — each time after the Mavericks (21-8) scored.
“I still need to work on my mental game and how to come out stronger,” said Lopez, who scored a game-high 19. “I’m not sure what it is early, but I really felt like I got in the flow in the second half.”
“Alaska started out a little slow,” Mascareñas said, “but I told her, ‘Keep your head in it, keep your head in it, you’re going to get going.’ I told her, ‘It’s not how we start, it’s how we finish,’ and she finished great.”
Lopez finished 5-of-8 from the floor, 3-of-6 from 3-point land and 6-for-6 from the foul line.
Adrianna Tafoya hit a pair of 3s on her way to 13 points for Peñasco.
Anissa Plowman led Lordsburg with 17 points while Gabby Artiaga added 15.
Both teams shot poorly; the Lady Panthers were 17-for-57 (29.9 percent) and the Mavericks hit just 15-of-53 (28.3 percent).
The teams were a combined 10-of-40 from 3-point range, and that included Lopez’s hot hand. But the teams were strong from the foul line, combining to hit 31-of-42.
Mascareñas said this is just the third time the Lady Panthers have ever been in the title game, and they have never won it.
“We’ve talked about that all season,” Lopez said. “We want to be the first.”