Sat Mar 28th, 2020
Special to the Drum
Tags: 2A/1A San Juan Basin League, Avaleena Nanaeto, Budweiser Events Center, Charlize Valdez, CHSAA, CHSAA Class 2A Girls’ Basketball State Championships, Ebonee Gomez, Emily Jelden, Jayden Brunson, joel priest, John Baumgartner, Kristen Vieselmeyer, lady bobcats, Lady Dragons, Lady Tigers, Larissa Gallegos, Lauren Herman, Makayla Howell, Monika Lucero, Sarah Razo, Shianne Willmon, Victoria Race
Virus fears truncate tourney after day one loss
Initially informed her squad had battled the CHSAA Class 2A Girls’ Basketball State Championships’ No. 2 seed evenly on the Budweiser Events Center scoreboard from the floor, Ignacio head coach Justa Whitt’s seventh-seeded Lady Bobcats actually outscored Holyoke 29-27 in that respect.
Also able to out-gun the Lady Dragons 5 to 3 from three-point land on Day 1 of the three-day tournament, it would have appeared the underdog was more than capable – and worthy – of pulling off a ‘Great Eight’ upset Thursday, March 12.
But Whitt and all red-and-black backers were forced to witness helplessly a horrifying coincidence unfold during the last eight regulation minutes, which ultimately denied the program a first-ever State triumph.
Having strung together an impressive 15 consecutive wins over foes great (including 3A Pagosa Springs and 2A-Region VIII Tournament championship opponent Rocky Ford) and small (such as regular 2A/1A San Juan Basin League rivals Mancos and Telluride) before journeying to distant Larimer County, the Lady ’Cats were undone as they’d been the previous time they’d come up short: from the free-throw line.
Awarded only two free-throw chances during the fourth quarter, and just four during the whole second half, Ignacio fell 47-34 as HHS went 12-of-16 from the aptly-dubbed charity stripe during the final frame, 19-of-26 after intermission, and a decisive 20-of-31 from start to finish compared to IHS’ 5-of-12.
“We definitely had a breakdown in the fourth quarter, and unfortunately, the foul situation hurt us,” Whitt said afterwards. “You can’t win a game when 20 free throws are made, and we only get a shot at four.”
Called for eight infractions, many of the baffling, head-scratching variety, during the closing eight minutes alone, the Lady ’Cats were unable to mount the sort of comeback which had nearly snatched victory from seemingly predestined defeat Jan. 16 at non-league 2A Del Norte.
The Lady Tigers – also able to qualify for the Championships and seeded fourth – had prevailed 53-50 that afternoon, going 23-of-35 from the foul line while Ignacio, which sank seven treys to DNHS’ zero, ended up 5-of-6.
Ill-fated on a weekend featuring both Friday the 13th and the Shakespeare-fabled Ides of March about two days after that, and playing with the COVID-19 specter hanging over the mostly-empty (aside from essential game-day personnel working at the venue, each player/coach was allowed up to four guests) building, the Lady Bobcats fell behind 12-4 after one quarter as Holyoke sophomore Lauren Herman knocked down two triples during the last two minutes.
Howell nailed Ignacio’s first three with 5:59 left in the second quarter, cutting the deficit to 12-7, but Holyoke (23-1 overall), motivated by senior point guard Emily Jelden’s first four points, were able to rebuild a 19-11 halftime lead despite IHS sophomore Avaleena Nanaeto draining a corner three with 1:33 left before the break.
Still, the Lady ’Cats were relatively unshaken, having held HHS sophomore center Kristen Vieselmeyer to just five points and senior forward Shianne Willmon – who’d signed on March 4 to play fast-pitch softball at Columbus, Neb.-based Central Community College – to only two, as the duo combined to go just 1-of-5 in the free-throw department.
“We knew that we were going to be playing girls … bigger than us; we knew we really had to shut out the inside,” said Howell, “so we were fronting the girls as much as we could, hoping to push them out. That was our major goal.”
“I think it was nerves at the beginning of the game, and that always happens up here,” Whitt said. “We went in the locker room, the girls regrouped and were ready to fight. They did, and it was awesome.”
Awesome to the extent that after Lady Dragon senior Sarah Razo hit a three-ball to put HHS up 24-14 with 5:42 left in the third quarter, it took just 2:25 of clock time for IHS to rally as close as 25-24 after threes by senior Larissa Gallegos and junior Jayden Brunson sandwiched a harmless Jelden FT.
“In past games we’ve slowed down in that third quarter, which really kills us,” Brunson said. “And we knew coming out strong, pushing it really hard, making sure we scored in that quarter was going to be really crucial.”
But Vieselmeyer would hit a free throw with 2:57 left, and Holyoke closed out the quarter rebuilding a 31-24 lead mostly from the stripe; Jelden went 5-of-6 during the third and Vieselmeyer 2-4, with Herman adding a key two-point hoop.
Having ended Ignacio’s 2017-18 season with a 45-35 win in the Championships’ consolation-bracket semifinals (HHS went 20-of-26 from the stripe during that Day 2 action; IHS went 6-of-15), John Baumgartner’s bunch started the final frame on a 5-0 scoring burst, and still held a double-digit lead, 40-29, after Jelden sank two FTs with 4:07 left.
Sophomore Monika Lucero became the seventh Ignacio player to score in the clash, hitting a three-pointer, but with Vieselmeyer (15 points) and Herman (12) each going 4-of-4 from the foul line during the fourth quarter and Jelden (12) 3-of-6, Holyoke was able to pull away.
Wearing No. 1 on her jersey, Howell fouled out with, fittingly, 1:01 remaining and six points to her name. Finishing with four fouls, Nanaeto would also book a half-dozen while junior Ebonee Gomez, who sparked IHS’ third-quarter recovery with back-to-back layups, totaled a team-best eight points while also playing with four personals. Incredibly, Lucero and junior Charlize Valdez (three points) also battled with four fouls apiece, and Gallegos ended up saddled with three.
Brunson (five points) and Lucero combined to win Ignacio the game’s bench-points category, 8-2 over HHS senior Victoria Race, who’d scored four points in the teams’ previous engagement (Willmon and Razo also were varsity Lady Dragons in ’17-18, but neither scored against IHS).
Due to intensified concerns regarding the aforementioned coronavirus, CHSAA decided later that night to cancel the next two days’ play, leaving the Lady Bobcats with a finalized 18-6 record and no chance to bounce back for senior regulars Howell and Gallegos, plus reserves Elizabeth Valdez, Bella Pena, Bela Torres and Helaina Taylor.
“Throughout the process of communicating our plan regarding the state basketball tournaments in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have maintained that the tournaments would be played unless a state agency or a host venue made a decision affecting that status,” CHSAA Assistant Commissioner Bert Borgmann said in a mass e-mail sent just before 11:30 p.m.
“On Thursday evening, the CHSAA office was informed by the University of Denver that the school would no longer be able to host the Class 3A tournament. With uncertainty at all additional sites, including a state-of-emergency declaration by the city of Denver, the difficult decision has been made to cancel the remainder of all tournaments in all classes.”
IHS would have next faced 3-seed Rye (24-1), shocked 46-31 earlier on Day 1 by No. 6 Sanford, in the consolation semis. Meanwhile, after downing No. 5 Wray (17-8) in the Championships’ very first contest, 63-46, Del Norte (21-3) would have next faced 1-seed Limon (24-1) in the ‘Final Four’ with SHS (16-7) and Holyoke also to square off.
“In the face of this unprecedented public health emergency, we are compelled to discontinue play in all tournaments,” Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green was quoted in the e-mail as saying. “We want to thank those who have supported us through the difficult decisions in these uncertain times.”
Girls’ “Great Eight”
Thursday, Mar. 12 – No. 7 IGNACIO 34, at No. 2 Holyoke 47:
IGNACIO 4-7-13-10 – 34: M.Howell 2 1-4 6, L.Gallegos 1 0-0 3, C.Valdez 0 3-6 3, E.Gomez 4 0-0 8, A.Nanaeto 2 1-2 6, J.Brunson 2 0-0 5, B.Pena 0 0-0 0, L.Brunson 0 0-0 0, M.Lucero 1 0-0 3, E.Valdez 0 0-0 0, B.Torres 0 0-0 0, H.Taylor 0 0-0 0, S.Gosney 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 12 5-12 34. 3-POINTERS: Howell, Nanaeto, Gallegos, J.Brunson, Lucero. TOTAL FOULS: 25. FOULED OUT: Howell (1:01 left, Q4).
Holyoke 12-7-12-16 – 47: E.Jelden 2 8-12 12, S.Razo 1 0-0 3, L.Herman 3 4-4 12, K.Vieselmeyer 4 7-11 15, S.Willmon 1 1-4 3, V.Race 1 0-0 2, C.Koellner 0 0-0 0, A.Alejandre 0 0-0 0, G.Roberts 0 0-0 0, E.Thompson 0 0-0 0, J.Lutze 0 0-0 0, E.Krogmeier 0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 12 20-31 47. 3-POINTERS: Herman 2, Razo. TOTAL FOULS: 13. FOULED OUT: None.