Ignacio to first face Sanford
Burying two of Ignacio’s three three-pointers in three trips down the court, beginning in the fourth quarter, and finishing with four long-range makes all told, Jayden Brunson couldn’t have done better imitating sidelined senior Avionne Gomez in the 2A-District 3 Tournament’s finale, even if opposing Dolores had expected her to do so.
And with sophomore Makayla Howell, back in action for the Feb. 23-24 event (held at Montezuma-Cortez H.S.) after missing much of the season due to surgery on her left wrist, able to use her own inside/outside skills to replace freshman Ebonee Gomez, neither the Lady Bears nor semifinal foe Telluride could deny IHS the title, as well as the honor of hosting one of the Class 2A State Tournament’s eight regional rounds.
“We … all had to be able to step up and take their places, keep going,” said the freshman Brunson, after logging a game-high 14 points with first place in the balance. “Even though they weren’t there, we had to step up.”
“There was a little bit of a difference, missing two of them,” she noted, “because some of our guards didn’t get as many [fast] breaks as we usually do. But I still think we did good for them not being there.”
“You know, it’s not just about one player; it’s about the whole team. I think we always are ready to play with one another,” Howell said. “We want them in the game because they’re really vital players, but being able to play with other teammates is great too!”
Able to overcome sluggish starts in neutral territory each day en route to sinking THS 38-18 and DHS 46-11, the Lady Bobcats (19-2 overall) will next see Sanford (15-7) Friday, March 2, inside IHS Gymnasium at 3:00 p.m.
The winner will then meet either Denver Christian (17-4 going in) or Paonia (14-8) – participants in that evening’s 6:30 game – the next afternoon at 1:00 p.m. for the Region VIII title and trip to Loveland’s Budweiser Events Center for the decisive ‘Great Eight’ phase, Mar. 8-10.
“It’s going to be pretty cool!” said Brunson. “I’m glad that we were able to pull it off!”
“Last night, that was my first night back actually, so districts is when I came back and … I’m super excited to host regionals!” an amazed Howell said. “Our home court … I’m excited! We’ve got to stay hungry and that’s what we were; we stayed hungry like it’s our last game – we always do – and came out strong.”
Perhaps as an unintended psychological ploy directed at the Lady Bears, the elder Gomez, minding an ankle [her sibling was out due to concussion protocol] reportedly wracked in the regular-season finale versus Ouray, rode the bench wearing a t-shirt … but also her uniform shorts—as if she’d be head coach Trae Seibel’s stabilizing go-to in a crisis situation.
And for the first eight minutes against DHS, one could almost see her ready to request inclusion; Dolores had held Ignacio to just six points while managing five themselves, including a trey by senior Sarah Hamilton.
Fortunately, Seibel wouldn’t have to consider sending Gomez out for even a short quality-control spell. Following baskets by Howell and junior Kiana Valdez, plus a free throw by sophomore center Morgan Herrera, Brunson cashed her first triple and increased the Lady Bobcats’ lead to 13-5.
With 2:21 left before halftime, Herrera sank another FT after drawing DHS sophomore Brenn Jeter’s third foul. Sensing vulnerability in the post, IHS wasted little time attacking and senior Allisianna Baker drew Jeter’s fourth with 1:32 still remaining. Two resulting FTs fell, and Baker banked in a 14-footer on Ignacio’s next offensive rush. Finding even more salt to throw in the Lady Bears’ wounds, freshman Shelcie Gosney ended the half with another bucket from deep in the paint – putting the Lady ’Cats comfortably ahead at 20-5.
Herrera barged inside against Jeter immediately beginning the third quarter, and Brunson followed with her second triple and upped IHS’ advantage to twenty points. She’d later hit from closer in, and sophomore Larissa Gallegos, intensifying the low-post invasion, concluded matters with a three-point play – giving herself four FTs in five tries, six points total in the quarter, and Ignacio an unapproachable 33-9 lead.
“Posts, on our end … were keeping their hands up, so we were good on the fouls. They just kept going up and getting fouls called on the other team!” said Brunson.
Two Baker FTs with 5:35 remaining enacted ‘mercy rule’ running-clock timing, as IHS’ lead reached 44-9. And though Jeter avoided disqualification, junior Tatum Majors did foul out with 3:51 left and both starters finished scoreless. Hamilton managed a team-best seven points in defeat.
Baker and Herrera each finished with seven in victory, while Valdez booked five and Howell four.
“Last night, the energy was just … down … and I think we did really good with shaking it off, just focusing on this game,” said Brunson. “We came out pretty good in the first half, and we picked it up even more.”
“Yeah, that was definitely a hard game,” Howell agreed, alluding to the win over Telluride. “We started off slow and at the end we realized, like, ‘This isn’t every other game; this is districts! This is our time!’ So that really made us wake up.”
BACK IN EFFECT
Scoreless during the win over THS – in which Herrera registered a game-best 15 points, with Gallegos contributing nine and Howell six – Brunson, who started both D-3 contests, admitted she’d surprised herself probably as much as she did Dolores.
“I was very happy that my shots were finally starting to fall,” she said with a grin. “I think I just had to have more confidence in myself, and we all sort of picked up the energy. We were ready to get the game … and kept going, kept pushing.”