Lady Cougars reach state championship game with easy win

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Tohatchi Lady Cougar Candice Dean (10) watches the ball fly through the air while attempting for a three-point shot Thursday during the New Mexico Class 3A girls state semifinals against the Tularosa Lady Wildcats at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Tohatchi got off to a fast start and won 78-43.

RIO RANCHO, N.M.

Just like last year’s state title run, the calling card for Tohatchi girls’ basketball continues to be defense.

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
The Tohatchi Lady Cougars stand and applaud their efforts after defeating No. 6 seed Tularosa Lady Wildcats Thursday morning at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M.

On Thursday morning the second-seed Lady Cougars (24-6) forced No. 6 seed Tularosa into 26 turnovers, including 18 in the first half as Tohatchi ran away with a 78-43 win behind senior Kalian Mitchell’s 36 points and 12 rebounds at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.

Tohatchi will try and defend their state crown as they will play in the New Mexico Class 3A state championship game on Friday at 1:30 p.m. at the Dreamstyle Arena, aka the Pit, in Albuquerque.

“I am very humble and grateful that I have a great group of young ladies,” Tohatchi coach Tanisha Bitsoi said. “They play hard and work hard and I am real happy for my seniors, especially Kalian.”

Bitsoi said having Mitchell has been a true blessing as the skilled point guard has the ability to make things happen on both ends of the court. But she also emphasized that they have other people that contribute.

“Her teammates have her back and today they did that,” she said.

Like they did on Tuesday, the Cougars got off to a fast start. Tohatchi shot lights out in the first eight minutes as they made nine baskets and raced out to a 26-9 lead.

“I think their defense is underrated,” Tularosa coach Patrick Garcia said of Tohatchi. “Their defense makes their offense go. They get you up and down the court and they rebound. They make things happen. They’re a good club and I fully expect them to challenge for that state championship.”

In the second stanza, Tohatchi scored nine of the first 11 points and went up 36-9 with 3:46 left before the half behind Mitchell’s six points.

With Mitchell burning his team for 22 points in the opening half, Garcia said they were well aware of what she could do but they could not stop her.

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Tohatchi Lady Cougar Kailan Mitchell (5) shoots the ball for the basket Thursday morning at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M. Mitchell led Tohatchi with 36 points and 12 rebounds in their 78-43 win.

“The game plan was to negate her and try to mix up our defense,” Garcia said. “We did a little box-and-one and we tried to find something that would work.”

Garcia said he was real impressed with how Tohatchi ran their offense.

“They came out right off the bat and they had a good supporting cast,” he said. “We couldn’t stop the bleeding and the game got away from us.”

Late in the third, a running clock was instituted when Tohatchi went up 66-30 on two free throws from Cameron Tsosie, who finished with 17 points.

Navajo Times | Donovan Quintero
Tohatchi Lady Cougar head coach Tanisha Bitsoi and the Lady Cougars bench watch to see if the ball sinks for three points during the New Mexico Class 3A girls state semifinals at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho, N.M.

“They’re a very good team,” Garcia said. “We found out firsthand what it’s like to come across a hot team, and they did what they needed to do.”

Tohatchi is scheduled to play top-ranked Texico in the finals as the Lady Wolverines beat district foe Clayton by a 63-42 count.

“We need to be ready to play,” Bitsoi said. “It just a matter of the girls being focused, and having that urgency and energy to play.”


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Categories: Basketball
Tags: Lady Cougars

About Author

Quentin Jodie

Quentin Jodie is the Sports Editor for the Navajo Times. He started working for the Navajo Times in February 2010 and was promoted to the Sports Editor position at the end of summer in 2012. Previously, he wrote for the Gallup Independent. Reach him at qjodie@navajotimes.com