RIO RANCHO, N.M.
The long ball has been a big part of the Tohatchi offense this past year.
The Lady Cougars didn’t shy away from that as they tied a state tournament record by hitting 10 treys on Thursday afternoon against No. 2 seed Texico in the semifinals of the New Mexico Class 3A girls state tournament.
Those treys helped heal a few heartaches as the Cougars advanced into their first state finals in as many years with a 69-44 win.
For the past few years being “so close had been the storyline for the Cougars but this year they are going to be dancing inside the famed WisePies Arena on the University of New Mexico campus on Friday when they take on top seed Eunice. Tipoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.
“If any team that deserves to be in the championship game it’s this group,” Tohatchi coach Tanisha Bitsoi said. “We did have our shortcomings the past two years but I think this year we were able to play with more urgency and we were a little more focused.”
Bitsoi said after last year’s lost in the state semifinals, her team worked their butts off and she was quick to credit the supporting cast.
“All the girls in that locker room played a role,” she said.
The Texico Lady Wolverines had a tough time containing Tohatchi, especially point guard Kalian Mitchell as she poured in a game-high 26 points that included a perfect 8-for-8 at the free throw line.
“Watching them play the other day I knew what they were capable of,” Texico coach Richard Luscombe said. “They have so many ways to beat you and they have so many kids that can shoot.”
Tohatchi had nine players that scored with senior Cheyenne Begay and freshman Samantha Belone putting in 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Luscombe said he wanted his team to control the tempo but that got away from them, as Tohatchi were relentless the entire game.
“They’re hot right now,” he said. “It’s hard to beat a team that hot. Not only on offense they play good defense. They put a lot of pressure on you.”
The Wolverines felt that pressure from the get-go as Tohatchi raced out to an 8-3 advantage on a trey by Belone.
Texico bridged that deficit down to 15-11 on a trey by junior Kambri Lowen with 2:09 left in the opening quarter but for the next seven minutes Tohatchi went on a 18-5 run for a 33-16 cushion with 3:49 to go in the half.
At the half, Tohatchi led 41-20 with Mitchell scoring 18 of her points.
Bitsoi said that dominant first half was a result on how some prognosticators predicted it to be a Eunice and Texico finals.
“They basically said it was Texico and Eunice hands down,” Bitsoi said of the selection show that aired last week. “To come in and make that statement means a lot to them but we’re going to enjoy this today.
“We still have to take care of business tomorrow,” she added. “It’s not over yet.”