SHIPROCK — Few places in the state are more difficult to pick up a win than the Chieftain Pit.
The No. 4 Lady Chieftains punched their ticket into the 3A state quarterfinals, defeating No. 13 West Las Vegas 67-45 in a first-round game at home Friday night.
Shiprock used a 23-5 run in the first quarter to put the Lady Dons in a big hole early in the contest.
Shiprock head coach Larenson Henderson credited the Lady Chieftain fans for creating a great home-court advantage.
"I think this is the first time they've played in front of a capacity crowd like that," Henderson said of West Las Vegas. "I told the girls to get a jump on them right away."
The Lady Dons continued to fight for the final three quarters, but the Lady Chiefs lead was too big for West Las Vegas to come back from as Shiprock kept its lead in double-figures for the rest of the game.
"We saw the lead trim down to 11, but someone always stepped up and got a layup or got to the free-throw line and got something going," Henderson said.
Taylor Henderson led Shiprock with 21 points in the victory.
The Lady Chiefs' guard is excited to be heading back to The Pit after winning a state title with Kirtland Central their last season.
"I'm really confident in our team going down there. Hopefully, we can make the final," she said.
Courtney Steele battled in the paint all game to score 16 points for the Lady Chiefs.
"My teammates keep encouraging me to be strong," Steele said. "They said they'd need me during state, so I tried not to let them down."
Steele's play down low was critical to help Shiprock come out victorious.
"She's a great blocker, defender and rebounder," Larenson Henderson said. "She was big for us."
Shania Harry and Ashley John each added 10 points in the win.
"One thing I like about our team is that we have a lot of key scorers. It's not just one person," Larenson Henderson said.
The Lady Dons were led by Michelle Tapia's 13 points and Jaylen Gutierrez chipped in another 12 points in the loss.
The Lady Chiefs had the advantage at the free-throw line, hitting 17-of-26 attempts while West Las Vegas was under 50 percent, making only 10-of-21.
Shiprock will move on to face No. 5 Taos in the quarterfinals.
Larenson Henderson admitted Taos is not a team he is familiar with, yet.
Taos advanced after defeating No. 12 Sandia Prep 53-43 in the first round.
The Lady Tigers won the District 2-3A championship after defeating the Lady Dons 65-58 in overtime.
The Lady Chiefs' tip-off versus Taos is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. in Albuquerque.
"I'm so excited," Steele said on heading to The Pit. "We have to just stay in control."
Joshua Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4577. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.