Lady ’Cats again trump top-level talent

Ignacio’s Avaleena Nanaeto (35) reels in a rebound over Mancos’ Kasey Wallace during SJBL action Tuesday, Feb. 18, at MHS.
Ignacio’s Larissa Gallegos takes contact while attempting to shoot over Mancos’ Emmalee Asnicar (15) during SJBL action Tuesday, Feb. 18, at MHS.
Ignacio’s Charlize Valdez (12) dribbles back to the basket to make a layup after stealing the ball from the Pagosa Pirates offense. Valdez’s layup won the game (35-36) and the crowd went wild inside the IHS gymnasium on Friday, Feb. 21.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum
McKayla Lee | Southern Ute Drum

Valdez’s swipe-n-score stuns Pagosa, 36-35

Finding ways to fell foes short or tall, great and small, the Ignacio Lady Bobcats will enter the postseason performing like a ranked team they would have deservedly re-became at the expense of a ranked team most others envy.

Scoring the last two of her eight points Friday evening, Feb. 21, junior guard Charlize Valdez managed to steal the ball from a visiting Pagosa Springs player (reportedly senior Teagan Stretton) scamper the length of IHS Gymnasium’s court unchecked, and convert the takeaway into an electrifying go-ahead basket late in the fourth quarter.

“What was most amazing about that,” said IHS head coach Justa Whitt, “Charlize dribbles the ball off her foot, loses it, and nearly falls down but is … chasing the ball.  She was our last guard with a few fouls to spare, so she knew she had to get a [clock-stopping] foul.  But as luck would have it she got the steal and the bucket instead!”

“I saw she crossed over to my right, and I tipped the ball away, and she fell,” Valdez explained.  “I was all alone and made a layup.  It was crazy, and such a good end to the game.”

However, roughly twelve seconds – an eternity for the Lady Pirates, at the time Class 3A’s No. 4 in the week-starting (and, unfortunately for Ignacio, last regular-season) CHSAANow.com polls, and coming in off an Intermountain League title-clinching, Senior Night home win less than 24 hours earlier over Bayfield – still remained inside the deafening venue.

A non-factor offensively against the Lady Wolverines, senior Hailey Griego managed to pile up a game-best 19 points, but the vaunted visitors were unable to generate even a potentially tying free throw try before the buzzer and lost 36-35 to the 2A/1A San Juan Basin’s best.

“This was so huge for us,” Whitt said.  “This was the game where it all came together. Our defense was phenomenal, we played as a team and together, and I think this game will really help carry momentum into next week.”

Despite scoring their second-fewest points in a game – behind only their 35 at 3A Cedaredge back on Dec. 13 – yet this season, the Lady ’Cats managed to clinch a second win over top-10 resistance in as many recent tries (the first a 61-56 upset of non-league 2A Del Norte on Feb. 11), and book their 11th consecutive victory overall after racing out to a reported 14-5 first-quarter lead against the surprised invaders.

Wes Lewis’ ladies capably kept Ignacio (14-5 overall) from running away during the second, however, and went back into the locker room at halftime trailing 23-16.

A strong third-quarter surge regained PSHS (15-4, 9-1 IML) a slim 29-26 advantage entering the final frame, forcing IHS’ players and coaches to perform with purpose and limit chances for – in particular – Griego, senior center Elsa Lindner and junior sniper Adelyn Dozier (four three-pointers, 16 points versus BHS).

“We were focusing on the back-door defense because they have two girls that are six feet [tall], and they’re tough matchups,” explained Whitt.  “Our rotations were quick, and while we got into some foul trouble, we got through it.  It felt like Pagosa was in the game because of free throws, but our defense was the difference tonight.”

In all, the Lady Pirates’ scoring was distributed between only five individuals and the Lady Bobcats’ between seven.  Makayla Howell paced the winners with 11 hard-earned points, while Larissa Gallegos sank two three-pointers and registered eight points in aiding her fellow senior against superior height in the paint.  Sophomore Avaleena Nanaeto managed four points.

Senior Taylor Lewis supported Griego well for PSHS with her ten, but Dozier, backup guard Kori Lucero and reserve post Molly Graham were each held to two and Lindner zero.  Limited to only two treys and seven total field goals, Pagosa Springs shot a saving 19-of-24 (Griego 11-14, Lewis 4-6) from the charity stripe while Ignacio struggled at 4-of-11.

In a 44-18 romp at 2A Mancos three days before – Ignacio’s 11th triumph in 11 total SJBL tests – Gallegos had pumped in a game-high 16 points, and both Valdez and junior Jayden Brunson joined her in double figures with ten apiece.  Slowed by four personal fouls, Howell was actually kept scoreless by the Lady Jays (paced by sophomore Rhiley Montoya’s five points).

Up next, the Lady ’Cats will begin postseason play at the neutral-site 2A-District 3 Tournament (Feb. 28-29, at Montezuma-Cortez H.S.) as the bracket’s No. 1 seed via their 8-0 record versus the SJBL’s 2A members.  Their Day 1 opponent, however, in the 4 p.m. game was unknown by press time Monday evening, Feb. 24; 4-seed Ridgway (3-5) and 5-seed MHS (3-5) were to play a 2/25 ‘pigtail’ game, with the surviving side’s reward a third clash against IHS.

Earning the No. 2 seed, Telluride (3-5 2A SJBL) will meet 3-seed Dolores (3-5) on the 28th in the tourney’s 7 p.m. game, with both victorious Day 1 crews advancing to the next afternoon’s 1 p.m. championship.  The losing sides will contest third place on Day 2 at 10 a.m.

 

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