Navajo Pine girls defeat LA to reach semifinal

By Alastair Lee Bitsoi
Navajo Times

RIO RANCHO, N.M., March 8, 2012

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(Special to the Times - Donovan Quintero)

Navajo Pine Lady Warrior Krishia Artieda shoots as Lady Hawk Aubrey Carr (22) looks on Tuesday in Rio Rancho.

Navajo Pine Lady Warrior Demetria Clichee races for the basket to score two points as a Laguna-Acoma Lady Hawks player looks on Tuesday at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.

W hen the brackets were released two weeks ago for New Mexico's Class 2A girls state tournament, the defending state champion Navajo Pine Lady Warriors were nowhere to be found among the predicted semifinalists.

But if their 54-47 win against the No. 3 seeded Laguna Acoma Lady Hawks in the quarterfinals indicates anything, it's that the Lady Warriors are serious contenders for a possible two-peat.

Last year, the Lady Warriors entered the state tournament as the No. 6 seed but upset the defending state champion and top-seeded Texico 45-41, winning the school's first state title.

With that, one might ask if they are surprised to have made it this far in the state tournament.

"No, we're not surprised," said Navajo Pine head coach Aretha Mariano in a postgame interview on Tuesday. "I am confident but I try not to show it. The girls are the same way. I am happy we have gotten this far."

The confidence could be seen in the first half, when Mariano's team hit 10-of-19 shots from the field for 53 percent.

In the opening minutes of the first quarter, Navajo Pine raced out to a quick 6-0 lead.

On Navajo Pine's first possession of the game, junior guard Demetria Clichee, who had a game-high 28 points, scored on a drive for a 2-0 advantage. Seconds later, Destiny Laughlin hit a mid-range jumper and Raecal Catron scored with a floater for the 6-0 lead.

By the end of the first quarter, Navajo Pine had outscored Laguna Acoma 8-2 to take a commanding 14-2 lead. In this sequence of plays, Clichee hit a 3-pointer on top of the key.

Following Clichee's 3-pointer, Catron scored on consecutive possessions, including an old-fashioned 3-point play that stretched Navajo Pine's lead to 14-2.

Navajo Pine's high-percentage shooting continued in the second period, when point guard Kaitlin Chee hit a jumper and Clichee scored 9 more points, including acrobatic layups.

Laguna head coach Randy Hunt said Clichee's play in the first half is what contributed to Navajo Pine's win.

"I couldn't figure out if she was left handed or right handed," he said. "You teach kids to take away her right hand and she's putting layups with her left hand that you can't block. You try to take her away, and others step up. I don't know how many shots we took."

At the break, Navajo Pine led, 26-16.

After exploiting Laguna Acoma's press for most of the game and a comfortable lead in hand that stretched to 23 points at one point, the Lady Warriors decided to stall.

That strategy, however, worked against the Lady Warriors, who committed about 12 turnovers in the final period.

As a result of these turnovers, the Lady Hawks took advantage and rallied behind the play of Lacey Natseway, who scored 7 of her 20 points in the final period.

Laguna Acoma outscored Navajo Pine 20-9 in the fourth, but it wasn't enough as Laughlin and Clichee hit free throws to maintain their lead for the 54-47 win.

As much as the loss stung for Laguna Acoma, Hunt said he was proud of the way his team battled back and reduced a 23-point deficit to 7 points by the conclusion of the game.

"We made such a good comeback," Hunt said. "That's the hard part of this game and competition. You saw that game - if we had hit a couple of those free throws and a couple of shots who knows where we would be."

With their quarterfinal victory, the Lady Warriors advance to the semifinals and play No. 2 Mora at 11:30 a.m. today at the Santa Ana Star Center.

"We don't know much about them but we know they had a close game with Clayton," Mariano said. "We have no idea what they are going to do.

"We just got to go out and play our game and take care of the ball," Clichee said. "We got to take it one game at a time."

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