The No. 4 Chieftains advanced to the 3A quarterfinals by defeating No. 13 Ruidoso 65-46 on Saturday night in Shiprock behind the support of a capacity crowd of over 4,000 fans who started lining up for tickets over five hours before the doors opened.
The Chieftains (23-5) scored eight points before the Warriors (8-17) could even get up a shot attempt as the Shiprock defense and loud Chieftain fans forced Ruidoso into numerous mistakes early in the game.
"They took it all in and I don't know if they were intimidated by it," said Shiprock head coach Chester H. Atcitty Jr. of Ruidoso.
It was the first time all season the Warriors had experienced an environment like the Chieftain Pit offered on Saturday night, said Ruidoso head coach Dennis Davis.
"It's a great atmosphere. I would love to have this at every game," Davis said. "The biggest crowd we had wouldn't have even filled half of this. I'm really glad the kids got to play in the atmosphere. They did a great job cheering on their kids and I didn't hear anything negative toward our kids at all. I was really pleased with the hospitality here."
The Warriors were able to fight back in the first quarter, briefly taking a 12-11 lead, but Darryle Nelson hit a 3-point basket with under a second to play to give the Chieftains a 14-12 advantage heading into the second quarter.
"We came out with a real quick start and then we got too relaxed. We just didn't have the intensity," Atcitty said. "We backed off and had to remind the boys to get out there and just play ball."
Shiprock pushed the lead to 27-18 by halftime, but the Chieftains struggled converting around the basket, shooting just 9-of-37 in the first half.
Nerves played a factor in the easy Shiprock misses, said junior Justin Begay.
"It was frustrating, but coach tells us to keep driving it in," said Begay, who scored a game-high 19 points on 9-of-19 shooting.
The Chieftains responded in the second half with a 12-0 run to start the third quarter.
Shiprock's shooting drastically improved in the second half, with the Chieftains making 15-of-29 from the field as they finished out a dominant victory.
Hiram Gleason added 17 for Shiprock on 5-of-11 shooting from the field and 6-of-6 from the free-throw line.
Gleason is ready to travel down to Albuquerque and thinks Shiprock is ready to make a run at a state title.
"That's our plan. We're starting to peak," he said. "We’ve been there before, and I think we've had some jitters, but we've put that out of the way."
Patdric Toehe also chipped in 13 points for a balanced Shiprock offense.
"The number one thing at this point is to find the hot hand," Atcitty said. "We have to trust in one another. Anybody can make those open shots."
The Chieftains will move on to face No. 5 Portales after the Rams defeated No. 12 West Las Vegas 62-51.
Davis believes Shiprock has the ability to make a run at the state title.
"If they play like the did tonight, then they have a great chance to win a couple games," Davis said. "We've played Portales and some of the better teams out there, and they'd match-up very well with them. Portales will give them a tough matchup in that next round. They handle the ball and they pressure well."
Shiprock and Portales will meet on Wednesday night at the Santa Ana Star Center at 8:15 p.m.
"They are a really good, so we have to bring our A-game and hopefully we'll come out with the win," Begay said.
Joshua Perry can be reached at email@example.com or 505-564-4577. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.