Lady Cats lock up league’s 2A title, eye outright championship

Ignacio's Michelle Simmons (3) flies past Telluride's Shelby Brier
Ignacio's Michelle Simmons (3) flies past Telluride's Shelby Brier on a drive to the hoop Saturday, Feb. 16 inside the THS MinerDome.
Joel Priest | Special to the Drum

Nobody connected with the Lady Bobcats needed to tell them what was at stake on Saturday, Feb. 16.

And nobody needs to tell them what’s at stake now. Because they knew, and they know: the San Juan Basin League title — the whole, not just their half — is close enough to touch.

“We’ve got a good week of practice ahead to prepare for Norwood,” IHS head coach Justa Whitt said after last Saturday’s 54-47 road win at Telluride, improving Ignacio to a first-place 5-0 against the SJBL’s 2A-level side.

“Got to guard both of the Williams girls [Harlie and Jordan] pretty strong. They’re a solid part of that team,” she said. “But I think if we can do that effectively, we should be able to take that game. It’s at home, last home game for the seniors, there’s going to be a lot of emotion involved. … Hopefully we can be pumped up and ready to just put it to ’em.”

“Coach [told] us that we have only two teams standing in our way, so we had to get on it,” senior Michelle Simmons said. “And we can’t take anything for granted. We had to go strong, and good thing they were missing their shots because that kind of helped.”

Indeed; though NHS might have their potent sister duo, they don’t have Shelby Brier anymore.

But after what she gave head coach Michael Lee against IHS, they may wish they did: The ex-Lady Maverick guard dropped in 16 points, matching Simmons for tops in the tilt while attempting to mimic the Lady Bobcat point guard’s all-around show running.

However, it took a lengthy buzzer-beater by Brier to get the Lady Miners somewhat in gear. Ignacio, with Simmons and Cloe Seibel each netting six points in the first quarter, had sprinted out to a 17-6 lead in the MinerDome before that three-point heave (which followed many, many earlier misses).

“It was, kind of,” said THS senior Morgan Mackie, asked if the early bricks were a concern to the Lady Miners. “We as posts don’t really get the ball so much. We kind of depend on our outside shooters to make those shots. But thankfully they started falling in. I think we just needed to warm up a little bit.”

Behind Mackie’s six second-quarter points, the Lady Bobcats’ lead grew by only a bucket’s worth at halftime, 30-20, after Seibel drained a mid-range jumper out of a broken play.

“Cloe’s jumpers were going in. She didn’t even have to hardly look like she shot,” Whitt said.

Behind a well-balanced attack yielding four third-quarter points for Seibel (who totaled 14), Valerie Armstrong (10) and Mariah Vigil (nine), as well as two more for Simmons, Ignacio appeared to have matters well in hand, leading 44 to 30 as the fourth began.

But Lee played the mind game particularly well in the huddle.

“He was saying that win or lose, this really doesn’t matter. Just go for it: It’s just basketball,” said Mackie, who finished with 14 points. “So we just wanted it, really. We were down so we were like, ‘Time to get it on!’ We just focused really hard and went for everything. … There was nothing to lose.”

Brier’s final five points pressed Whitt into a timeout with 3:08 remaining, but the Lady Cats (11-7, 6-1 SJBL) still up 52-42. Telluride junior Sierra Sandoval (eight points), however, responded with a three-ball, and Mackie sank a free throw to bring the Lady Miners back to within six.

“A little bit scary there at the end,” Whitt said. “I was trying to get everybody in, but I had to go back with my starting five because it got a little hesitant there for a minute.”

With five points, Jordan Cuthair was the only reserve to score for IHS, which lacked sister act Pam and Sky Cotton. Carson Brumley booked seven points for THS, which played without Sarah Wontrobski (concussion), and Erin Pihl added a late pair.

“You know, it wasn’t our best game,” Whitt said. “But we played solid, played through. I asked Michelle to step up before the game started, and she did exactly that … did what a point guard should do.”

“It feels good because I haven’t had a good [scoring] game this season, not doing as good as I was last season,” Simmons said. “Just getting back in the rhythm and getting my confidence back up.”

And with Norwood (17-0) coming to town to end the regular season, the timing can’t be better.

“We’re going to have good, hard practices, and be ready. That’s all we can do: Get prepared,” she said.

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