Fri Mar 26th, 2021
Special to the Drum
Tags: Abi Snyder, Amber Saltzman, Avaleena Nanaeto, basketball, Bobcat Girls Basketball, Charlize Valdez, Class 2A Girls’ Basketball State Tournament, Great Eight, IHS, Jayden Brunson, Justa Whit, Laci Brunson, Lady Cats, Lady Thunderbolts, Lily Hancock, Meghan Saltzman, MelonDome, Mighty Meloneers, Niquole Knapp, Otero County, RFHS, Rocky Ford, Shelcie Gosney, Teagan Mendoza-Werner
Brunson hits five treys in ‘Sweet 16’ loss
Unflappable to a flagrant fault, even a disputed technical foul with only 68 seconds possibly remaining in her IHS career couldn’t fluster Jayden Brunson Thursday night, March 11, out on the distant Eastern Plains.
RFHS superstar Abi Snyder calmly canned both resulting free throws, extending the Mighty Meloneers’ lead to an almost-secure 49-35, and boosting her own point count to an incredible – if not unexpected, considering her Colorado Mesa University recruit status – and game-high 28 but Ignacio’s senior, singled out in a loose-ball altercation with senior Niquole Knapp, made sure to leave her calling card before exiting the MelonDome.
With at least one hand almost in her face, Brunson’s trademark low release point actually enabled her to practically fire a three-pointer from the right wing—in front of the visiting Lady Bobcats’ bench—underneath her defender, and the end result was exactly the sort of splash Rocky Ford head coach Mark Henson feared would have made waves much earlier during the Class 2A Girls’ Basketball State Tournament ‘Sweet 16’ contest.
“These guys – Ignacio – I tell you what…. We got up by 17, and we’re sitting on the sideline thinking to ourselves, ‘If we could push it to 20, 23, just imagine how good things could be!’” he said. “But they wouldn’t let us run! They just would not leave us alone and hung in there – they were fantastic. Had a never-die attitude, I know that.”
Brunson’s trey gave her a furious five in the game, and brought the guests back to 49-38 before a last-second hoop further closed the gap to a finalized 49-40 – the nearest IHS had been since Brunson’s fourth triple cut the Meloneers’ lead, which had stood 34-23 when the fourth quarter commenced, down to 42-35 with 2:46 left in regulation.
Or when her two free throws with 6:56 to go in the second quarter shrunk a growing margin back down to 13-7.
“I’ve been a little ‘cold’ lately, but I’ve been working on my shot more and I knew if I just set up and do what I know how to do, that I could knock ’em down,” said Brunson, who finished with a team-high 19 points, 17 coming after intermission. “I just.. … every chance I got, every open shot, I took it.”
Playing as though pained by the fact that her school – which had stormed out to a 13-0 lead behind a Snyder three and two more from senior Meghan Saltzman – hadn’t won a State Championship in either girls’ or boys’ hoops since 1940 (RFHS’ boys beat Grand Junction 33-23 for the Class B crown), Snyder coldly responded just 16 seconds later with her fourth three.
“That [Snyder] is an amazing player, there’s no doubt,” Ignacio head coach Justa Whitt said. “She’s hard to stop and you can’t completely ‘stop’ players like that; you can only try to slow them down, and that wasn’t quite enough today.”
Trailing again by double digits, the Lady ’Cats lost an irreplaceable cog in their attempted comeback when senior Charlize Valdez was given her fifth personal foul with 1:57 left.
Her first of two three-pointers had initially gotten IHS (10-5 overall) on the scoreboard with 3:11 to play in the intimidating first quarter, and she would total eight points. Senior center Shelcie Gosney actually managed to win the offensive battle against counterpart Lily Hancock, 7 points to 6, but five of her count came from the foul line (where she went 5-of-6).
Sophomore guard Laci Brunson managed to cash one of the Lady Bobcats’ eight total threes and finished with six points, but junior Avaleena Nanaeto was held scoreless while slowed by three personals.
Fewer than 48 hours after eliminating 21-seed Hoehne in the opening Round-of-24, 48-32 inside IHS Gymnasium (behind Valdez’s game-best 19 points and Jayden Brunson’s 12), No. 12 Ignacio would go into the second quarter against No. 5 Rocky Ford down 13-5, and managed to regroup somewhat after halftime mercifully offered them a chance to recompose down 24-12.
“We needed to slow them down and play our tempo, just keep being methodical – all those things that we’ve been working on all year,” explained Whitt. “And we started to see it in the second half – slowly climbing, slowly climbing. And we’ve climbed out of holes several times this year; there just wasn’t enough time to do it today, unfortunately.”
A three by RFHS senior Teagan Mendoza-Werner maxed out the Meloneers’ advantage at 29-12 before the Lady ’Cats ended the third outscoring them 11-5, thanks mostly to Jayden Brunson’s first two treys and one late courtesy Laci Brunson.
“I mean, they could have folded at any time; down 17, they could have said, ‘Ah, to heck with it – we’re done.’ Absolutely not,” Henson said. “They came back and brought it back down to single digits. A great job on their part.”
“One hundred percent … we feel like that our start won the ball game. I mean, you look at the difference in the game – an eight-, nine-point game I believe – and right there, that start won the game.”
“They’re a damned good team; you can’t knock that,” said Whitt. “This is where we’re at in the season, you know? We’re at that time…good teams against good teams, and whoever’s best that day is going to win.”
Saltzman finished with 10 points and sophomore Amber Saltzman chipped in the other two for Rocky Ford (12-2 overall).
“We pushed each other and we stuck together the entire season; we knew we could make it as far as the end. That didn’t happen but we just kept playing as hard as we could every game, no matter what,” Brunson said.
“We’ve played these guys before, and we knew we wanted to win just as much as they did,” she continued, alluding to IHS’ win over RFHS in last season’s Region VIII championship. “We played as hard as we could and left it all out on the court.”
“I can’t say enough how proud I am of these girls,” stated Whitt. “The fortitude and the determination that they had to finish the season the way that they did…says a lot about their character.”
RFHS’ title hopes were smashed 56-26 in the ‘Great Eight’ by 4-seed Rye, but the Lady Thunderbolts’ own dreams then died in the semifinals as 8-seed Wray prevailed 76-68. Pit next against No. 10 Limon for all the marbles, the Lady Eagles (13-4 overall) couldn’t erase a 30-20 halftime deficit and ultimately lost 63-50 to the Lady Badgers (16-3).