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Tohatchi, Navajo Prep make 3A title game

By Santiago Ramos Jr. and Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

RIO RANCHO, N.M

The Class 3A state title game will be decided by two teams from District 1-3A.

No. 3 seed Navajo Prep outplayed No. 7 St. Michael’s, 61-32, Thursday morning in the first 3A girls state semifinals at the Rio Rancho Events Center.

In the late game, Tohatchi advanced with a 44-39 win over Santa Fe Indian School despite a late run by the Lady Braves.

The 3A title game is scheduled for 3 p.m. at the Pit in Albuquerque on Friday.

The championship final will mark the fifth time the two Class 3A state powers will clash this season.

The Lady Cougars and the Lady Eagles have split their four previous meetings.

Tohatchi nipped Navajo Prep 38-36 early in the season. Navajo Prep took the second meeting, 47-40, only to lose the third meeting, 45-33, in the district tiebreaker. Navajo Prep bounced back and knocked off Tohatchi,  44-35, in the district tournament finals.

Navajo Prep, which is seeking its eighth girls state basketball crown, appears to be peaking at the right time after beating Tohatchi in the district finals on the road. The Lady Eagles crushed No. 14 Socorro 73-15 in the Sweet 16 round and then cruised past No. 6 West Las Vegas 59-28 in the state quarterfinals.

Tohatchi took care of two district opponents in the first two rounds – cruising past No. 16 Crownpoint and No. 8 Zuni, 48-16 – before holding off No. 4 Santa Fe Indian, 44-39, in the semifinals. Tohatchi, seeking its third state title and second in a row, pounded SFIS, 46-24, in a lopsided state final last year.

St. Michael’s has now lost to Navajo Prep the last three years at state – losing 49-42 in the state quarterfinals last year and losing 57-47 in the Sweet 16 round in 2022.

Navajo Prep is focused on adding to its seven state titles after winning back-to-back state titles in 2020 and 2021, during the pandemic, over Tohatchi (46-33) and Robertson (63-47), respectively.

“We always face St. Michael’s,” Crisp said. “They’re always a good team. They’re quick. We just had to slow it down in the second half and pull our press off because we were fouling way too much. Thank goodness they were missing their free throws (12-of-28).”

With an early start and playing in a cold Rio Rancho Events Center venue, Navajo Prep, which never trailed, jumped out to a stunning start over a cold-shooting St. Michael’s team with a comfortable 14-1 first quarter advantage. Junior Eva Poyer scored all of her seven points by reeling off three consecutive baskets, including a trey that she banked off the glass. All the Lady Horsemen had to show for the first eight minutes was a free throw by Mariella Ruiz.

“It was really good, cause we had a tough time scoring in the very few minutes, but we got going and then subs came in,” veteran Navajo Prep head coach Rainy Crisp said of her team’s quick start. “They did great.”

Up 23-10 at the half, Navajo Prep nursed its lead up to 20 points, 36-16, after a pair of free throws by senior Aniya Johnson, who again led the way with 15 points and five steals.

St. Michael’s did not help itself as it shot poorly at the free throw line, sinking just 12-of-28 attempts. Navajo Prep fared much better, converting 10-of-16 at the free throw line.

In addition to the poor free throw shooting, St. Michael’s shot just 20 percent from the floor (11-of-53). Navajo Prep did a bit better shooting 33 percent (29-of-87).

Even Navajo Prep’s bench was able to add to the lead late in the game. Kameron Dale and Kambreya Diane pumped in threes and Maureen Ford scored at the end as the Lady Eagles enjoyed their biggest margin of the night at 29 points, 61-32.

Prep senior guard Tru Billie buried three treys to finish with 13 points.

Special to the Times | Lee Begaye
Navajo Prep senior Tru Billie (5) drives inside for a layup against St. Michael’s Thursday at the Rio Rancho Events Center. Navajo Prep advanced into the Class 3A title game with a dominating 61-39 victory.

Again coach Crisp, who played on three state championship teams for Navajo Prep from 1995 to 1997, was pleased as 10 of her 12 players scored. St. Mike’s only had its five starters score. Against West Las Vegas, Prep showed its deep bench as 11 of 12 players broke into the scoring column.

Crisp praised her team’s defensive pressure that caused 24 turnovers.

“It was good,” Crisp said. “I just feel like we fouled too much but that’s something we’ve been working on. We played aggressive defense. We have great team defense.”

Prep senior guard/forward Aniya Johnson says the team is peaking.

“We’re starting to really peak,” Johnson said. “Our defense, we’re talking and communicating.”

St. Michael’s head coach Sonya Ruiz was expecting a tough semifinal battle with Navajo Prep.

“We knew they would be a tough matchup,” Ruiz said. “This was our fourth year in a row playing them in the state tournament. That’s the worst we’ve played them. We played them a lot closer the last three years. They’re a tough team. If we hadn’t fallen behind early we would have stayed in the game. We couldn’t get a shot; we couldn’t get a free throw. They broke us down in our half-court offense. We only had five players that scored. We need to have other people to step up.”

Tohatchi

Behind a balanced scoring attack Tohatchi earned a chance to defend its state title.

“I’m very humbled to be back there again,” Tohatchi coach Tanisha Bitsoi said. “I’m grateful and thankful that I’m able to coach these young ladies. To go back to that championship game, not a lot of teams get to experience these types of opportunities.

“Overall, I’m just grateful,” she added.

The Cougars had seven players score, headed by 11 points from senior Brooke Bedonie. Juniors Yaya Peterson and Kayanna Capitan helped out with eight and seven points, respectively.

Navajo Times | Quentin Jodie
Tohatchi Lady Cougar Brooke Badonie (4) puts up a shot against the Santa Fe Indian School Lady Braves in the Class 3A state semifinals Thursday night at the Rio Rancho Events Center. Tohachi edged SFIS by a 44-39 count.

Tohatchi also received six points each from seniors Marissa Denetso and Crra Cecil.

The Lady Cougars parlayed a 22-15 halftime advantage into a 41-25 cushion with 4:45 left in the fourth quarter after a three-point shot from Denetso.

That 16-point cushion was enough to hold off SFIS as the Braves put up a valiant effort in the last four-plus minutes of the contest.

“In the third quarter we hit a slump, we couldn’t get much to go in for us,” SFIS coach Khadijha Jackson said. “We did get lost on defense but we regrouped and tried something different.”

Santa Fe Indian junior post Emma Lewis scored six of her game-best 23 points in that final run. Despite being down by so much, the SFIS go-to player felt that they were never out of the game.

“We’ve been trained with that mindset, like we can’t have any doubts in ourselves,” Lewis said. “We have to regroup and come together. It was all up to us.”

Lewis got SFIS within 41-36 with 1:43 left. After the Braves turned Tohatchi over they gave it right back with a pass that sailed through Lewis’ hands on the sideline.

The SFIS coach believes if they scored on that possession it would have put more pressure on Tohatchi.

“We were trying to score and we were going to turn to our defense,” she said. “I just told my girls that we ran out of time. That’s pretty much it, we ran out of time.”

Bitsoi credited SFIS for not quitting.

“The game of basketball, you’ve been hearing all week, is a game of runs,” Bitsoi said. “Teams have to survive the runs and, you know, we can’t make the decisions we made down the stretch (today).

“Credit Santa Fe Indian, they never gave up,” she added. “They had us on our heels for that last two, three minutes.”


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