KIRTLAND — After scraping past semifinal games, Kirtland Central and Shiprock will once again square off in a rivalry game that will fill the stands of Bronco Arena tonight.
Kirtland Central (4-9) saw a game-winning shot go in from junior reserve Taylor Miller with just over two seconds to play to earn a 38-37 win against Belen (5-8).
“It was unbelievable. I am so happy I was able to step up when my team needed me the most,” Miller said. “I just stepped in and took the shot. Coach always tells us to be ready to shoot and I had the perfect opportunity tonight.”
Miller, who is easily the shortest player on the court at under 5-feet, hadn't attempted a shot the entire game before her game-winner.
“She came off the bench and hit the shot. She hasn't gotten much playing time all year, but it was nice to see her step right in and take the shot without any hesitation,” said Kirtland Central head coach Kevin Holman.
The Lady Broncos started strong in the opening quarter, matching the Eagles' 12 points. Kirtland Central took a 25-22 lead into halftime, but saw that lead disappear quickly in the third quarter as Belen opened the third quarter with five quick points. But the Lady Broncos held the Eagles to just one more point the rest of the quarter.
Kirtland Central held a 29-28 lead going into the fourth quarter. The teams went back-and-forth, exchanging the lead seven times in the final minutes
The Lady Broncos led by 36-35 with under a minute to play when Belen had five opportunities to take a lead thanks to offensive rebounds. Finally, Belen's Mariah Forde hauled in a rebound off her own jump shot and took it up for a layup to give Belen a late one-point lead.
But out of a Holman timeout, Miller found herself open to take the game winner.
“I figured it would be a close game the whole way after watching Belen on Thursday,” Holman said. “Right now, we don't have the capability of blowing people out. The girls played good defense tonight and found a way to get the win.”
Belen head coach Dereck Atencio was pleased with his team's fight in the game, and he knows the trip to Kirtland will only make his team better.
“It is a situation where this is a program that has won three games in two years,” Atencio said. “We are learning to win, and games like this will really help us when it comes to games in our tough district.”
“Kirtland is a good team. Their record is a bit deceiving, because they are very well-coached.”
After starting the season with 11 road games, the Lady Broncos are now 2-0 at home this season.
“It is a little winning streak, I guess. It is nice for us,” Holman said.
Before the Lady Broncos took the floor, Shiprock (11-2) had already secured its place in the tournament championship game with a 58-54 victory against Fruita Monument, Colo.
Taylor Henderson led the Lady Chieftains with 18 points in the game, scoring 10 of those in the fourth quarter as Shiprock entered the final eight minutes trailing the Wildcats 43-36.
Henderson was just 3-of-13 shooting from behind the 3-point line, but it was her third make in the fourth quarter that gave Shiprock a big boost in momentum.
“My coaches usually tell me to keep shooting. As much as I miss, they tell me to keep shooting,” Taylor Henderson said. “It makes me mad sometimes when I miss, and my dad (head coach Larenson Henderson) yells at me. I know I need to knock those open shots down.”
Ashley John scored another 13 points for Shiprock, including six points early in the fourth quarter before the team began to roll.
Shiprock fans picked up their intensity in the fourth quarter, too, helping fuel the Lady Chieftains on both sides of the court.
Pressure defense forced several Fruita turnovers, and Courtney Steele was a force inside the paint all night defensively for the Lady Chieftains.
Steele finished the game with 14 points, but she also recorded five blocks and nearly reached double-digits in rebounds.
“Coach Henderson told me to go up strong and not to worry about (Fruita's) size,” Steele said. “It felt good to block those shots.”
Shiprock was hurt at the free-throw line, where the Lady Chiefs shot just 16-for-32 Friday night.
“That is a lot of misses. We run when we miss those in practice, and we had come around to making them,” Larenson Henderson said. “I am shocked at that tonight, and we have to get back to making them.”
Though the Lady Chiefs struggled shooting the ball, Larenson Henderson was pleased with the team's ability to fight through adversity and earn a victory.
“We showed a lot of perseverance. Every player and team goes through struggles, but I am glad our girls battled through it,” he said. “We showed good strength.”
Holman is happy to have the opportunity to play Shiprock again, and he hopes his team can achieve its initial goal of winning three of the four games they played this week.
“We need to win against Shiprock to get that third win. I thought, the way the bracket was set up, we would have a good chance of seeing Shiprock in the final. We will go at it, and it should be a lot of fun,” Holman said. “Larenson is doing a great job with his group, and I hope we can come out and compete and keep it close and have a chance at the end.”