KIRTLAND — Shiprock and Wingate's boys basketball teams have had the tendency to take their games to the wire and Monday night was no exception.
Wingate built an early lead and held off a Shiprock fourth quarter charge to pull out a 53-52 victory at a sold out Bronco Arena in Kirtland and earn the right to host the District 1-3A tournament title game.
"How wonderful of an experience it was for these kids — Shiprock and Wingate — to play in these types of games," Wingate head coach Al Martinez said. "This is something the kids are going to remember forever."
The Chieftains (17-10) were down by as many as 10 points in the fourth quarter but their defense forced the Bears to turn the ball over six times in the final eight minutes as Shiprock cut the Wingate lead to a point with 12 seconds left.
Shiprock had a chance in the final moments to win the game, but as Darryle Nelson Jr. went up for a last-second shot, the ball was stripped away. The Bears recovered the loose ball as the buzzer sounded to seal the win.
"We got lucky. It was a close call," Martinez said. "I think the refs let the game be decided, and we might have stole one. We built a lead and we needed every point of it."
After a back and forth first quarter, the Bears (16-10) defense shut down the Chieftains in the second, opening up a 28-16 lead heading into halftime.
Wingate held Shiprock to just four points in the second quarter on 1-of-12 shooting.
The Bears had strong performances from Kyle Begay and Kacee Begay, who each scored 13 points in the victory.
Kennell Jones also added 11 in the win.
Hiram Gleason carried the Chieftains' offense with 20 points on 8-of-17 shooting, but didn't get much help.
Andre Joe had a strong game in the paint for Shiprock, finishing with 11 points, while getting numerous offensive rebounds for the Chieftains.
Shiprock leading-scorer Justin Begay finished with 10 points, but got into early foul trouble, picking up three in the first quarter, and struggled with his shot throughout the game, making just 3-of-14 from the field.
"When one of the leading scorers goes cold, it's tough," Shiprock head coach Chester H. Atcitty Jr. said. "Someone has to step up and at the same time, they have to know when they're cold and not continue to force the situation."
The Chieftains only used seven players in the game. Rookie Hoskie, normally one of the Chieftains contributors off the bench, sat the game out with a knee injury.
Shiprock will enter the District 1-3A tournament as the No. 2 seed and will host the winner of Tuesday's matchup between Bloomfield and Thoreau on Thursday.
"I think the field is set and we're sitting at about a 10 right now," Atcitty said about the Chieftains' state seeding. "We're going to have to go on the road (in the first round)."
Wingate will host the district title game on Saturday night.
Aztec 68, Piedra Vista 65
Aztec pulled an upset to open the District 1-4A tournament, knocking off the No. 3 seed Piedra Vista on Monday night at the Jerry A. Conner Fieldhouse.
"We are getting our players healthy and we're back to being a team," Aztec head coach Tony DiNallo said.
The Aztec coach credited a pregame trip to the driving range at Piñon Hills Golf Course with helping get the players ready.
"We just went out there and it really helped loosen them up," Dinallo said. "Instead of just waiting around all day and getting nervous about playing, we went out there and had some fun."
The Panthers fell behind by double digits in the fourth quarter, before trimming the lead to three, but couldn't complete the comeback.
"I didn't get them ready to play tonight," PV head coach Adam Huff said of the lackluster Panther performance.
PV (14-12) opened up a 30-26 lead in the first half, but Huff said neither team was playing that well and Aztec (9-17) found another gear in the second half.
"Aztec turned up the heat and we didn't. That was the difference," he said.
With the loss, the Panthers will have to wait until Sunday to find out their postseason fate.
Huff is expecting a state tournament bid for the Panthers, but isn't sure where his team will end up in the bracket.
"You never know with the NMAA. We're still above .500 and I don't see how they could put that many sub .500 teams in ahead of us to where we don't get in," said Huff, whose team is one of 11 in 4A with a winning record.
DiNallo is excited to continue the Tigers' season for one more game at least when they face Farmington on Wednesday.
"They're well coached and Paul (Corley) does a great job. They have multiple players who can give us fits," he said. "We'll go out and hit the range again, then see if we can win another one."Joshua Perry can be reached at email@example.com; 505-564-4577. Follow him on Twitter @jperrysuu.