Peñasco Girls Take NRG Title

by Staff Reporter / Jan 09, 2018 / comments
2907 The Peñasco High School girls basketball team took first place at the 70th Annual Northern Rio Grande girls basketball tournament, defeating Dulce 53-40 in the championship game Jan. 6 at Ben Lujan Gymnasium in Pojoaque. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Peñasco Girls Take NRG Title

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

Peñasco High School had been here before and the memory was not a good one.

The Lady Panthers have come a long way in five years. After three straight losing seasons, it looked like the Lady Panthers were on the road to success when last year they advanced to the championship game of the 2017 Northern Rio Grande girls basketball tournament. Peñasco was undefeated 10-0 on the season and top-ranked in Class 3A.

The Lady Panthers suffered a humbling defeat 47-24 at the hands of the Mora High School Rangerettes in last year’s championship game. Although Peñasco went on to finish with an 18-10 record and their first winning season since 2012, the loss in the championship game still lingered.

The Lady Panthers were back in the championship game at the 2018 Northern Rio Grande Tournament and this time around they were all smiles after defeating Dulce High School 53-40 for the title.

All eyes are on the ball as the Dulce Lady Hawks and Peñasco Lady Panthers wait for a rebound at the Northern Rio Grande Tournament. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Senior Estrella Gonzales has been a varsity player for the Lady Panthers since she was an eighth-grader. The only senior on this year’s team, she savored the moment.

“We’ve gone through some hard things,” she said. “This is a really great thing.”

Gonzales, along with juniors Bianca Contreras and Alaska Lopez, had plenty of support from a strong group of sophomores that have helped the Lady Panthers win back-to-back Class A-2A State cross country championships and took the volleyball team to a victory in the District2-5A tournament championship game.

Peñasco’s Alaska Lopez drives to the basket. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Two of those sophomores, Adriana Tafoya and Carly Gonzales, were key to the Lady Panthers victory over Dulce. Tafoya nailed a three-pointer to start the scoring, then completed an old-fashioned three-point play with a layup and free throw. When Tafoya nailed her second three-pointer, the Lady Panthers had a 9-2 lead. While the Lady Hawks had trouble scoring, Tafoya was not done yet. She nailed another three-pointer to give the Panthers a 17-8 lead at the end of the first quarter.

“When that first shot goes in, you feel good.” Tafoya said. “Confident in yourself.”

Another three-pointer by Tafoya started the second quarter. Dulce managed to cut the lead down to 21-12. Estrella Gonzales started a 10-0 run by Peñasco with a three-pointer and the Panthers led 31-12 at halftime.

Tafoya’s outside shooting opened up the inside for post Carly Gonzales, who scored twice in the paint to finish off a 10-2 run by Peñasco to start the third quarter. That gave the Panthers their biggest lead of the game 41-14. Peñasco led 45-24 going into the fourth quarter.

“The outside opens up the inside for Carly in the middle,” Tafoya said.

Peñasco’s Carly Gonzales gets fouled going to the basket. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Dulce fought furiously in the fourth quarter, getting 10 points from Brooke Vigil and cutting the lead to 45-30. A basket by Carly Gonzales and a three-pointer by Lopez pushed Peñasco’s lead back up to 20 points. It was too much for the Lady Hawks to overcome.

Peñasco Coach Rick Manzanares has been coaching the Panthers core group of sophomores since the sixth grade. He took over as varsity coach last season. He felt that last year Peñasco had a false sense of how good they were and Mora proved it by out-muscling and bullying the Panthers . In the offseason and the first half of this season, he wanted to toughen up his team mentally and physically by having them play bigger schools and tougher opponents.

“In the offseason, I scheduled a lot of jamborees and tournaments where there were a lot of 4A and 5A schools,” Coach Manzanares said. “We went up against some big girls.”

This season, the Panthers weren’t undefeated coming into the Northern Rio Grande Tournament.  The Panthers were 9-3 coming into this year’s Northern Rio Grande, but all their losses had been to bigger schools.

“I figured it was just going to help the girls mentally and physically,” Coach Manzanares said. “It’s just going to help us in the long run.”

It doesn’t get any easier for Peñasco after the Northern Rio Grande. The Class 2A Panthers face Robertson High School, one of the top teams in Class 4A in the state, Wednesday (1/10) in Las Vegas.