Pecos the rare favorite in Lady Horsemen Christmas Tournament

December 27, 2018

There are two ways of looking at being coined a favorite.

You can downplay it, or you can embrace it.

The Pecos Lady Panthers have not heard that term associated with them often over the last few years when it comes to regular season basketball tournaments — outside of the small school Northern Rio Grande Tournament.

This weekend is an exception, as Pecos sees an avenue to the championship game of the Lady Horsemen Christmas Tournament at St. Michael’s that begins Thursday. The Lady Panthers, who are 6-2, take on Mesa Vista at 4:30 p.m. in a first-round game in Perez-Shelley Gymnasium, but their head coach is not assuming an easy win.

Fifth-year Pecos head coach Ron Drake was down this path before — in January, in fact. The Lady Panthers entered the NRG Tournament as a contender for the small school tournament title, but an 18-day layoff helped Mora upset them 50-42 on the first day.

“We’re looking forward to this tournament because we get three games here before the NRGs,” Drake said. “It’s good to come in fresh, instead of rusty.”

On the other end of the spectrum are the Española Valley Lady Sundevils, who enter their first-round game against Cobre at 1 p.m. with a 5-5 mark. Española head coach Joe Estrada said he expects his team to be a favorite at the tournament, just because it is a Class 4A school and the biggest school at the tournament.

“That’s not a slight at any other team,” Estrada said. “That’s just our expectations of ourselves.”

Estrada added, though, that his team’s record is a bit of a misnomer.

“We’re six points away from being 8-2,” Estrada said. “We had three shots at the basket to beat Belen [in the opening round of the Rio Rancho Tournament on Dec. 13], and we had the same thing happen to us against Miyamura [a 48-47 loss on Dec. 4]. We had a technical foul called on us in the fourth quarter against Las Cruces [a 42-38 loss in the fifth-place game of the Rio Rancho Tournament on Dec. 15].”

What has Estrada feeling good about his team coming into the tournament is that he finally has his full roster. A series of injuries, illnesses and other factors left a couple of players off the roster. The first time Española had everybody in uniform came in the Lady Sundevils’ 64-37 thrashing of Valencia, where Estrada coached from 2016-18, on Dec. 18. Their performance mas him excited about their prospects for the rest of the season.

“We pressed them hard, moved the ball well and our shooters started hitting shots,” Estrada said. “They were very enthusiastic and we played every kid on the bench. We’re trying to be a deep and play 10-12 kids every time out. We have those kinds of athletes.”

If everything pans out in the first round, it is very likely that Pecos and Española will play in the 4:30 p.m. semifinal on Friday. That will be a rematch of the consolation semifinal game between the two at Capital’s Al Armendariz Tournament on Nov. 30, which the Lady Sundevils won 43-36.

However, Pecos was without Mikayla Gonzales, who did not submit her physical form until Nov. 29 and was ineligible to play, and the Lady Sundevils were without several players as well for a variety of reasons. Drake said Española has had the upper hand on the Lady Panthers over the last couple of years as the teams played against each other in the Armendariz Tournament the past two years and in a couple of summer camps.

Drake said he wanted to spend some time on Wednesday going over Española’s press in preparation for that matchup, but the snowstorm that hit the region canceled practice.

“They’re always tough and a thorn in our side,” Drake said. “The last game against them, we competed and hopefully we can do better this game. I know they are going to be looking for us.”

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