Coaches have been talking in anticipation of the Santa Fe Indian Lady Braves Super Classic for months, and play finally tipped off Thursday.
Teams from San Juan County went just 1-2 on the opening day, with only Kirtland Central advancing in the winner's bracket.
The Lady Broncos (1-1) battled into overtime with Grants (0-1) where three big 3-point baskets by Latricia Pinto, Taylor Billey and Shamika Benally gave Kirtland Central a 47-43 win.
It was a big win for the Lady Broncos after opening the season with a crushing defeat to Espanola Valley.
“After getting beat by Espanola, we talked about just wanting to get better every day. We did that tonight, and we were able to somehow pull off the win,” said Kirtland Central head coach Kevin Holman.
Grants jumped out to a 7-0 lead right away before Holman called a timeout. The Lady Broncos were able to narrow the deficit quickly at the end of the first quarter. Kirtland then used a 5-0 run at the end of the first half to trail the Lady Pirates just 20-18 at half.
Kirtland took a lead of its own for much of the second half until Grants reclaimed the advantage with 1:45 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“We were down five with 15 seconds to go, and Pinto hit a big 3-pointer,” Holman said. “I called timeout with 11 seconds to go, and we set up a press. We got a steal and a quick bucket by Keeshawna Ocerkman, and she got a three-point play out of it and made the free-throw. We went up one, but we fouled Grants' best player with four seconds to go. She hit one of two to tie it and then we missed a shot at the buzzer before it went into overtime.”
Pinto finished with 14 points for the Lady Broncos while Billey scored 13. Benally chipped in another 11.
The Lady Broncos played without Orquedia Reyes, who led the team in the opener against Espanola. She is nursing a knee injury.
Kirtland Central will play in the tournament semifinals today at 7 p.m. against the host Lady Braves, who defeated Navajo Prep 57-16 Thursday night.
“It is going to be a tough one against Santa Fe Indian. There might not be a better team in the state in any classification,” Holman said of the 3A Lady Braves.
On the other side of the bracket, Piedra Vista (1-1) lost to Espanola (2-0) 47-41 in a game the Lady Panthers could never quite take a lead in.
“The difference in the game was that Espanola hit eight 3-pointers, and one in the final minute that was a real back breaker,” said PV head coach Mike Christie. “Espanola got up 11 late but we cut it to 42-41 before (Alexis Lovato) hit that shot.”
The score was tied at nine at the end of the first, but a big Espanola run put the Lady Sundevils up 27-18 at halftime.
PV was able to cut back into Espanola's lead by dominating the boards, especially on the offensive end.
Kaleigh Graham led PV with 10 points and eight rebounds. Jacklyn Smith also had eight rebounds in the game.
“I am real pleased with our unexperienced team making a run and getting to the free-throw line a lot,” Christie said. “The big difference was our offensive rebounds that allowed us extra chances and free-throw opportunities. We went 21-35 at the line. It isn't terrible, but you can see half our points came at the line.”
The loss dropped PV into the loser's bracket where the Lady Panthers will face Santa Fe Indian School's junior varsity team at 1 p.m. Playing a JV team is the last thing Christie wanted to see because he knows it does nothing to help come state selection time.
“There is no doubt you don't want to play it. We weren't on their side of the bracket to start, but that is how it worked out. It seems like every tournament has a JV team now,” Christie said. “There might be some saturation with too many tournaments and not enough teams to play in them all, but it isn't good for any varsity team to play a JV team.”
Espanola will play Hot Springs in another semifinal game while Navajo Prep faces Grants on the other side of the loser's bracket.
The Lady Eagles (1-1) scored four points in the game's first 2:19 against Santa Fe Indian. Navajo Prep scored only three more points through two quarters, trailing the Lady Braves 35-7 with four minutes still to play in the third quarter.