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No. 7 Panthers rely on defense to upset No. 2 Eunice to reach ninth straight 2A semifinal

Mar. 13—RIO RANCHO — For a program known for running and gunning their way to dynastic proportions in Class 2A boys basketball, the Pecos Panthers put on a defensive clinic.

Pecos added yet another chapter to its "Little Team That Could" fairy tale Wednesday morning. Facing a Eunice squad with three forwards taller than their tallest player, Adrian Quintana (listed at 5-foot-11), the Panthers took that disadvantage and turned against the second-seeded Cardinals.

A 2-for-11 shooting performance in the fourth quarter helped No. 7 Pecos reach the 2A semifinals for the ninth consecutive season with a 60-55 win in the Rio Rancho Events Center.

The defending champion Panthers will play No. 3 Tularosa at 8 a.m. Friday in The Pit for a spot in the 2A title game.

A fast-paced game that had the Panthers holding a tenuous 48-47 lead through three quarters shifted into a defensive battle over the final 8 minutes. While it wasn't a pace that favored the smaller Panthers, they played big enough to hold Eunice without a field goal over the final 4 minutes, 56 seconds of the game.

"Our intensity, even from your young guys ... we basically wore them down a little bit," Pecos head coach Arthur Gonzales said. "You get in their face and you're gonna get tired. You're gonna come up short on shots and we spread the load through all the guys we played today."

Pecos senior guard Lawrence Ragland said a season's worth of preaching the importance of help-side defense to help slow down opponents' bigs is paying off at the right time.

"We work on that a lot in practice, and we just try to contain," Ragland said. "We don't have much height, so we help whenever we can."

It showed during that crucial stretch. The last basket the Cardinals made came from 6-foot-2 post Jorge Gomez, whose jumper in the paint cut the Pecos lead to 54-5. Eunice did not score a point over the next 3:13, missing three shots and turning the ball over twice in that stretch.

On the other side of the court, the Panthers went against type and began to attack the rim. The result was a Joshua Gonzales layup, a free throw from Lawrence Ragland and a pair from the line by Quintana for a 59-51 lead.

That was a common theme throughout the second half. After going just 3-for-15 from 3-point range in the first half, Pecos shot just nine times from deep the rest of the way. Instead, it reached the free-throw line 19 times, making 11.

"I felt like we attacked the rim instead of forcing shots," Panthers senior guard Joshua Gonzales said. "Us attacking really opened things up and got people moving so we could score."

Gonzales got things going in the second half, scoring seven of his team's first 10 points in the third quarter as the Panthers turned a 34-33 halftime deficit into a 43-40 lead.

When Eunice answered with a 7-2 spurt to take a 47-45 lead on Jaen Castro's 3 from the top of the key with 26 seconds left, Gonzales calmly responded with another sideline 3 16 seconds later for a 48-47 lead Pecos never lost.

After going scoreless in the first half, Gonzales scored 16 points the rest of the way to lead the team.

He was joined by Ragland's 12 points, with eight coming in the first half as he and Quintana helped keep Pecos in lockstep with Eunice throughout an entertaining first half. The trio made up most of the Panthers' returning varsity experience from last year's championship squad, and their leadership has been key for Pecos.

That has been especially true during its recent run of six wins in its last seven games which has the program on the cusp of a seventh championship game appearance.

Gonzales said this part of the season is fun because of what's at stake, and the experience he gained over the past couple of years being on teams that played for the blue trophy makes it easier to deal with the pressure.

"It's what everyone dreams of," Gonzales said. "Having a younger group, it's fun to experience different styles and how they perform a their best."

No. 4 Mesa Vista 66, No. 5 Rehoboth Christian 54

Fifteen years is a long wait between semifinal appearances, but it was worth it for the Mesa Vista Trojans.

The fourth-seeded Trojans continued their incredible run through the Class 2A field with a quarterfinal win over No. 5 Rehoboth Christian in the Rio Rancho Events Center. Jordan Gallegos poured in 27 points on 12-for-20 shooting to lead Mesa Vista.

Marcos Martinez had 10 of his 15 points from the free throw line for the Trojans (24-5), who shot 56% from the field and outrebounded the Lynx, 32-22. Martinez had a game-high 11 rebounds.

The Trojans built a 32-22 lead late in the first half thanks to 12 points from Gallegos. Rehoboth cut the lead in half heading into the locker room, but the outcome was settled in the early minutes of the third. Mesa Vista used a 10-2 run to push their advantage to 42-29 with six minutes left.

The Lynx never got closer than eight points the rest of the night.

Mesa Vista will take on No. 1 Academy for Technology and the Classics in a semifinal matchup at 11:30 a.m. Friday in The Pit.